The Social Sphere rode a roller coaster of emotions this week; amidst an horrific, cowardly, terrorist act in my former and beloved hometown, we used the social networks to follow the unfolding tragedy.
On Tuesday I found out about the Boston Marathon explosion while on a business call; Hessie Jones emailed me, knowing my connection to Boston and how concerned we all were. Like millions of us, I went right to Twitter – my news source for of-the-minute events.
What I found was a tremendous amount of concern, and of course #BostonMarathon trending.
Because ArCompany’s Sunday blog is focused on Social Judge, Jury & Executioner, we watch any kind of news or PR occurrence with a hyper sensitive eye; will the social bubble work on the side of good and help expose truth, or will it rush to judgment and condemn without evidence?
The Good: We Held It Together
This week, there was a high degree of caution in the ‘social bubble;’’ at least in the early days. For the most part, the day of and then days after the tragedy, we held our tongues, offered condolences, and pleaded for Bostonians who didn’t NEED to be online to get off and leave the bandwidth and cell phone airwaves for those in need.
I was amazed and, not to sound too patronizing, proud of the incredible restraint I witnessed. There were few instantaneous calls for revenge, and an air of patience.
Sadly, America has been through too many ghastly tragedies in recent years – perhaps we have found a more mature way of dealing with them as we wait to find out what really happened. This time, our outpouring of emotion was in condolence with the victims and in support of the many heroes.
My favorite quote appearing all over the web was from Mr. Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
The Bad: A Few Attempts at Social Hijacking
If you’re a CMO or in charge of social content, staying on top of instant trends is a good thing; Oreo’s whip smart social team did a superb job during the Super Bowl. We have also seen companies misuse a tragedy to try to hype their own product; it doesn’t work.
Sadly, this tragedy was no different. Sam Fiorella called the Newsjackers out immediately on his blog. Most companies understood that this was a time to refrain from self promotion… but there will always be those few.
The Ugly: A Marketing Juggernaut Fumbles Badly
Guy Kawasaki is a marketing legend. If you’ve read anything about marketing over the past couple of decades, you know who he is. He was a Social Media early adopter, an often kind guy with a HUGE following. But man, did he screw up this week.
Most Marketers agree that in times of tragedy, shutting off auto-tweets is a best practice; any brand appearing to be insensitive when something unspeakable has occurred is making a major PR faux pas. On my Small Business page I cautioned my followers to consider what they were posting at such a tense time, and most appeared to appreciate it.
When followers of Guy Kawasaki tweeted that he should shut his auto stream down, he responded to one with a regrettably arrogant reply:
As you may know, we are in line with the Brown/Fiorella thought on what Influence is, and we do not measure it simply on the number of followers. Guy should know better than to measure advice based on the number of followers the adviser had, and he certainly should have known there would be a bad reaction to his arrogant tweet.
The social world did not show restraint in letting Guy hear what they thought about both his automated tweeting AND his snarky tweet.
Steve Crescenzo wrote a scathing piece on Ragan.com that was also picked up by PR Daily. I don’t disagree with Steven’s basic premise, but he took a little too much glee in tearing Kawaskai down.
Perhaps we had all held our tongues for too long while tensions mounted over the tragedy in Boston; Steve was not alone. Margie Clayman wrote a softer, more thoughtful post about the subject on her blog.
Here’s our take: Guy was wrong. Period. And we would advise ANY client to turn off the auto feed when a tragedy happens, but, he didn’t kill anyone.
Deep breath. Perspective.
I try not to judge harshly on the basis of one misguided tweet, so I would merely point Guy Kawasaki in the direction of a phenomenal post by Lindsay Bell Wheeler over on Spin Sucks about Humility and Leadership. I think he should read it more than once.
Social ‘Evidence’ Comes to the Surface
Monday and Tuesday saw the social channels showing much restraint; but on Wednesday some scary images started to appear. An image on Imgur.com shows what might have been a connection between the remains of the exploded bag and a backpack a dark haired man was carrying in the crowd earlier.
My heart went to my throat: how many thousands of grey and black backpacks are in the city of Boston on any given day? Who is the ‘expert’ who gets to decide that this image is accurate? Oh no I thought, here we go.
On Thursday official pictures surfaced of a DIFFERENT man that was supposedly the suspect .
I’d already got ahead of myself with wishful thinking when reports of a suspect in custody littered my Twitter feed. Then, almost as suddenly, there were bomb threats on the Federal Courthouse in Boston and another threat at Brigham and Womens Hospital; both were evacuated.
It seemed, as it does when we’re learning about these tragedies, that the whole world had gone mad. Then came the tweets that no, indeed a suspect had not been arrested – traditional and online reporters had gotten it wrong.
Even more frightening were the initial images and reporting, in particular by The Post, that got the images wrong and stirred up a lot of anger and bigotry. The Post went as far as putting pictures of 2 ‘suspects’ on the front page of the paper; it turns out that the two were innocent spectators.
They Ask For Our Help
As I monitored the situation hoping that social lynch mobs would not arise, the FBI turned to social media for help, and the Boston Police department tweeted a request for help in identifying 2 individuals with a contact number. The FBI’s photo image of the suspects had been shared over 31,000 times by Friday morning.
I’d followed the story late into Thursday evening, and by the time I awoke on Friday one of the suspects was dead and the city of Boston was on lock down. Because of the rapid fire communication between reporting on the scene and social media, we knew within moments where the search was leading.
They Ask Us To Stop
On Friday morning, as the police were on a manhunt for the second suspect, they had to ask the social stream to go quiet. As they searched door to door, people were actually tweeting what house they were at. There were countless pictures and live video not only from professional reporters, but from people who were ‘sheltering,’ as directed by the Watertown police department, in their homes.
You Can’t Hide Anymore
The Boston Marathon tragedy and the chase to find the guilty was called the first Crowd-Sourced Investigation. Whether that is a good or bad thing is being debated as we speak.
As marketers we get caught up with both the power and responsibility of Social Media; this blog series itself is focused on exploring what happens when the mass that is the social mob becomes the Judge, Jury & Executioner of both PR and Real Life disasters.
We worry that at some point a picture of a ‘suspect’ or alleged guilty person will lead to vigilantism. This week has taught me that, although my concerns may be well founded, social media provides a level of transparency that makes it impossible for evil to hide like it once did.
From the images immediately after the marathon explosions of people rushing TOWARD the bombs to help, to the world wide effort to distribute and publicize images from that day, the social world provided law enforcement with instant and overwhelming amount of help.
Did many get it wrong? Absolutely.
But, as the police in Boston suggested it would early on, the bombers were found in pictures that were taken innocently by spectators. Once the suspects were identified, their images were spread all over the web and there was no where to hide.
THAT can only be seen as a positive.
VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany’s Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.