Should Your Brand Mention 9/11 on Social?

Sitting in the Denver airport, I realize my return flight to Portland will fall on 9/11. The fourteenth 9/11 since the one we all remember. This makes me feel illogically nervous for half a second before I begin wondering if it will actually feel different traveling on this day.

It will likely feel somber, but beyond the intangible sadness in the air, my day will likely be much the same. TSA might take a bit longer. I’ll probably overhear chatter of “where were you when?” and I imagine at some point I’ll look out the window of the plane and think about what I heard at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. I’ll remember the answering machine recordings of the flight attendants of the hijacked planes telling their loved ones goodbye. Then I will likely tear up and order a whiskey in a plastic cup.

But the online world is different; it’s a caricature of our real lives. It’s one that over-emphasizes the happy and communally embraces the sad. Sometimes this happens when the conversation is relevant to us, but often when it isn’t. If we lived in the world we created in social media, the airport might be clad in American flags; we’d probably be greeting each other with “never forget” messages; and we’d likely compile a list of those who interjected into the day’s conversations in a way that inclined us to make listicles of them to gawk at.

In an era where real-time discussions about current events are an integral part of a user’s experience, the approach to communicate on social about something as sensitive as 9/11 needs to be carefully planned. From a brand’s perspective, there are three common approaches to communicating about the day: embrace, carry on and ignore.

1. EMBRACE

What: Be a part of the conversation.

Con: This is the most difficult to do well and the easiest to do wrong.

Pro: If done right, you will help facilitate an important conversation and align your brand with a message that’s consistent with your voice.

Don’t forget: This is important to partake in if your brand belongs in the conversation, but partaking does not mean creating self-serving content (e.g., sales, promoting products).

2. CARRY ON

What: Neither mention nor ignore; treat as any other day.

Con: Your “everyday” messaging is sandwiched between 9/11-focused content.

Pro: You are still being present and true to your brand’s messaging. This characteristic will always be appreciated.

Don’t forget: Keep content themes appropriate by being cognizant of the social sphere’s tone and adjust messaging accordingly.

3. IGNORE

What: Go dark (i.e. post nothing).

Con: A day you are not communicating with your audience is a day you are not communicating with your audience.

Pro: For some, the day is too close to home to carry on a conversation if it’s not relating to 9/11-themed content (e.g., airlines).

Don’t forget: Other customer service issues exist. Don’t forget to respond to questions and monitor your communities.

There’s not an easy flow chart to determine where your brand falls. To start, think about your brand’s messaging strategy: what do you talk about and to whom are you talking?

If we, as brands, tangle ourselves in conversations regarding “holidays” like “National Eat a Peach Day” and “International Bacon Day” then is it right to ignore a day that does hold merit like 9/11?

On the other hand, if we’re talking to audiences who agree that “National Eat a Peach Day” is a relevant conversation­–– and to many it may be–– then is it our brand’s place to thank those who sacrificed their lives while trying to save others?

I don’t know. It’s not for me to say either. It’s the responsibility of each brand to determine if its voice is relevant. Like Goldilocks, you need to determine which messaging is too X or too Y and which is just right. What’s important is to be true to your brand’s voice when making this decision. Inauthenticity reeks no matter where it’s found.

Personally, I will not be tweeting on Friday. How I will participate is by looking the flight attendants and captains in the eyes as I disembark my flight while thanking them with the utmost sincerity.