In a recent blog post, my friend Arik Hanson asks whether or not brands should go dark in the wake of a national tragedy and his post has sparked a vigorous discussion and plenty of emotion.

Reading the post and comments brought back a feeling of deja vu, because I debated the same topic the day after the Boston Marathon Bombings with my co-hosts B.L. Ochman and Albert Maruggi. I agree with Arik that silence is the better part of valor in such situations but you can hear the emotion during that segment:

(You can listen to the entire episode here: Beyond Social Media: Boston Marathon Bombing & Social Media Etiquette During Tragedies)

My point, perhaps not as eloquently expressed as it could have been, is that brands run a risk of sounding canned in such scenarios. I think they don’t consider that when a tragedy occurs, a lot people now turn to Facebook and Twitter to learn more about a tragic event and subsequently follow developments there.

As they follow developments on social media, they are exposed to a deluge of expressions of sympathy. While those sentiments feel genuine from individuals, when brands join in, they run the risk of sounding forced.

The most common form of expression of sympathy is embodied in the phrase “thoughts and prayers go out to…” Due to the sheer volume of repetition of the phrase, is it any wonder that it might begin to sound cliche and, therefore, insincere?


  1. Albert Maruggi on June 19, 2013 at 6:37 am

    We want to desperately personify brands perhaps because we spend so much time and money with them. For the most part, brands are not human, and enough of the happy hoo-ha that brands are made up of humans, that has little to do with how institutions act. Or perhaps it does in the sense that they are self serving. How’s that for the humanity of brands.

    It is rare (not impossible, but surely rare) for brands to play on the ends of the spectrum of human experience, that is horrific tragedy (school shootings & war ) and incredible joy (the birth of a child or the exaltation of winning a championship e.g. Jordan’s NBA title after the death of his father) . Those spaces seem to be reserved for humans, thankfully.

  2. David Erickson on June 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Thank you, Albert.

    I think Brian Solis once said that brands eventually will act like humans. I think you’ve perfectly illustrated the limits of that notion.