As Boston marked its seven-day memorial of the Boston Marathon bombings with a moment of silence on Monday, it’s worth noting that Twitter mourned with the city on a hill. Despite the plethora of misinformation and the digital mob scene that swarmed the social networking site over the past week, Twitter’s heart was in the right place. And the brands that felt that heartbeat shared the silence and the heartache as well.
Immediately after the atrocity and chaos on Patriots’ Day, April 15, 2013, McDonald’s external communications manager contacted all social media field managers saying, “I think it goes without saying that we all should be halting social media messages due to the incidents in Boston for the time being.” There was no thought given to the recent launch of the Premium McWrap and how canceling previously scheduled ad flights of promoted tweets would negatively impact sales. McDonald’s simply did the right thing.
The outpouring of empathy and support wasn’t limited to Twitter, as Facebook fans watched the manhunt unfold on their feeds and celebrated with impromptu video clips when the lockdown ended. Again, for brands, it wasn’t about capitalizing on the tragedy, it was about participating in the communal grieving, sitting shiva with friends near and far.
“This manhunt is to social media as the OJ chase was to cable news,” noted @ChrisBradley81 on Twitter. Perhaps he’s right. I remember sitting glued to the TV in the summer of 1994 watching the slow-speed chase of the infamous white bronco and trying to make sense of it all. But I don’t remember what commercials ran during the coverage. That’s the difference now. Brands, for better or worse, are part of the ongoing digital dialogue. They’re in on the conversation in real time. So they have to make a choice of whether to speak out or hold their corporate tongues.
Twitter donated prime space for trending topics to the cause on the Tuesday following the bombings. The hashtag #OneBoston, a $200,000 value, was promoted on behalf of The One Fund Boston. The fund, created by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, was established to aid those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. Twitter’s generous gesture is another example of a brand doing the right thing – social for good.
I’ve often wondered how social media would have reacted during 9/11. There would have been confusion and cacophony. But family members might have connected with missing loved ones, and lives might have been saved. And brands would have had the unique opportunity to raise awareness, offer support and provide comfort to their online communities, just as they do today.