Be helpful, be kind or be quiet


Something horrible happened yesterday in America.

In the midst of the blood and terror, there were the heros we all hoped we would see: runners who kept on running to the hospital to give blood, first responders taking control of a chaotic scene, strangers opening their homes to stranded marathoners.

And then there were the rest of us.

Depending on your social media circles yesterday, you may have seen uplifting messages of hope or political and religious infighting or ponderous discussions about whether or not to pause scheduled social media posts.

When something like the Boston Marathon bombings happens, we all have feelings, but most of us don’t have an outlet for them – we can’t all go there and help. That leaves social media in a strange place in times of crisis — connected but often helpless. Even if you’re used to talking all day on Twitter and Facebook as a social media marketer, it’s hard to know how to react.


We don’t have all the answers, either. No one does. But there are a few places to start.

First, focus on perspective and empathy. Stop being a marketer for a minute and absorb what’s going on as a human. What’s the latest news from the scene? Where is the tragedy? How significant is the damage? How is it affecting the world, and your audience?

If your Twitter stream is filled with nothing but news of this event, that’s a good sign to stop what you’re doing (including canceling all scheduled posts for the day) and take some time to process.

After that: be helpful, be kind or be quiet.

Be helpful

Now that you have halted business-as-usual marketing, it’s time to figure out what, if anything, you can say or do to help.

For Google, that was opening its Person Finder tool to help locate friends and family. YouTube helped by creating a playlist dedicated to official information about the explosions. Newspapers lifted their paywalls for Boston Marathon news. Site like VentureBeat and Search Engine Land compiled lists of resources.

For marketers specifically, one small way to help is to remind your audience to pause or cancel scheduled social media posts.

It may seem like the most trivial thing in the world, but reminders like these help clear the airwaves during a crisis so people can find the information they need faster.

For your brand, the way to help might be to share important resources via social media, collect money or donations, or use your marketing skills to shine a light on those who are doing so. Maybe it’s sending a dozen pizzas to Bostonians through Reddit’s Random Acts of Pizza.

Don’t issue a press release about how much you did to contribute.

Don’t make your contribution hinge on Facebook likes or shares.

Just help.

Be kind

Others may not take the same approach you have, or may forget a scheduled post and look foolish for doing so. Your instinct may be to vent some of your anger and frustration by telling them what you think they did wrong.

Try not to.

Now is the time for grace, not shaming.

Business is international, and the world is big. Some regions see tragedy like America did yesterday on nearly a daily basis.

Also, mistakes happen.

Yesterday, 45 minutes before we first heard about the explosions, one of my colleagues received this webinar invitation:


Later, as she was scanning her inbox, she said: “Oh, that’s unfortunate timing. I feel badly for whomever sent that out.”

Then, about two hours after the explosions, the same colleague was catching up on Facebook posts and came across this Instagram post from a friend on vacation, who clearly had not heard the news.


She cringed, instantly. She forgave, instantly. No one intended to be crass or make light of a terrible situation. Real people were involved in both cases.

Why, then, do we judge brands so harshly, when real people are still the ones behind them in those coincidences of bad timing?

Be quiet

If you can’t be helpful or kind during a time of crisis, be quiet for a while.

We may have feelings and we may have a platform, but we may not have something worth saying in times like these.

That’s OK.

Courtney Seiter

Listener, storyteller and petter of all animals. Content crafting at Buffer; sharing stuff about social media, workplace culture, diversity and music.

Listener, storyteller and petter of all animals. Content crafting at Buffer; sharing stuff about social media, workplace culture, diversity and music.

  • Kelly McCausey

    Good advice Courney!

    • RavenCourtney

      Thank you, Kelly. Appreciate you reading. :)

  • Tabitha T

    I adore you more that you used a Mike FTW tweet.

    As always, your advice is on point.

    • RavenCourtney

      Thanks, Tabitha! Yup, he really nailed it in that tweet – more so than any long-form version of the same thing that I’ve read so far.

  • Paul Hickey

    Great post.

    • RavenCourtney

      Thank you, Paul.

  • TD

    Stumbled upon this entry looking for something else on your site, but glad I did. Great tips in here Courtney. The one about scheduled posts reminds me of all the PPC campaigns you see that use dynamic keyword insertion. We need to factor in for moments like these.

  • Hotel Fairy

    I run a couple travel sites full of deals & trips to various places. Luckily a few friends were quick to let me know about the tragedy and all of them said the same thing “If you have anything scheduled, you may want to go re-schedule it.” One friend said “if you have any Tweets auto-posting about Boston trips, be careful. It was very good advice. I suspended all Hootsuite activity for about 8 hours and did what I needed to do. It’s good advice not to just do “business as usual” when nobody cares about your shoe sale.

    • RavenCourtney

      I had a colleague in the office do the same for me. Sounds like you have a great network of smart and empathetic friends. And you’re right: not only will “business as usual” likely come off as insensitive, it just won’t work, either.

  • natashalorens

    Well done, Courtney. Good advice.

    • RavenCourtney

      Thanks, Tash. I like it when you stop by the blog. :)

  • Dorothy E Barnes

    I love this post! This is so true! Thanks for being helpful and kind by sharing :-)

    • RavenCourtney

      Thank you for reading. Glad it resonated for you!

  • Tristan Schmid

    I wrote about this very thing yesterday, Courtney, and you sum it up nicely. Kudos.

    (Here’s my article:

    • RavenCourtney

      Oh yes, I’ve totally been pulled into the compelling comments you’ve got going on over there. Great piece!

      • Tristan Schmid

        Thank you, Courtney – and thank you for contributing to the conversation!

  • Doc Sheldon

    Outstanding advice, Courtney! As you say, it’s important to remember that somewhere, there’s an individual behind a keyboard, and give the benefit of the doubt. Boycotting a major brand over a tweet will most likely cost somebody their job, and accomplish little else.

    • RavenCourtney

      Great point. We all handle emotion – especially grief – differently. Don’t get me wrong, there were quite a few people acting like jerks on social media on the day of the bombings, but on days like that the benefit of the doubt can stretch a little further and cover a little more. Thanks for reading!

  • Dana Lookadoo

    Amen! So agree, especially with your statement: “If you can’t be helpful or kind during a time of crisis, be quiet for a while.” Think this should apply outside of tragedy as well!

    • RavenCourtney

      Thanks, Dana! Yes, this headline might just be my new life mantra. Couldn’t hurt! Thanks so much for reading.

  • Barry Feldman

    Bravo. Bravo. Love this story. Love Mari’s line, “May peace prevail.” Good time to spin some John Lennon records.

    • RavenCourtney

      Thanks, Barry. I’m totally on board with that plan. :)