Social Media in Tragedy’s Wake

social media in tragedy's wake

I struggled writing this post because I wanted to get the words right. Like most people, I stared at my computer screen last Friday afternoon, blinking back tears as I read about the Newtown shooting. You don’t need me to rehash it. It was horrifying and wrong and heartbreaking and the only thing I read that gave me any sort of catharsis was from a fake news outlet. I struggled writing this post because there are no right words for what happened.

And yet, never have I read more words about an event. The words were pouring out of everyone – Twitter and Facebook were hemorrhaging them. I oversee OpenView’s social media presence and found myself drowning in collective grief and anger. And I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. Post something? Leave it alone? Carry on as usual?

I ended up posting one corporate tweet, one tweet with an offer of “thoughts and condolences” that felt utterly useless. I tried a “business as usual” approach from other accounts but it felt forced, like a shout out to no one. I don’t know if I handled it correctly, and that bothers me.

Brian Zimmerman, our Managing Director, gave me a great suggestion recently regarding blog posts: write about what you wish you were doing better. In addition to thinking a lot about what we could all be doing better after Newtown, the tragedy was a valuable reminder at an unspeakable price: your social media presence is your immediate, humanized brand. Never is this more apparent than when something like this happens. Keep that in mind and use it accordingly.

A friend of mine who works in social media texted me last weekend:

“Did any of your professional social profiles post about the shooting?”

Yup. Conflicted. Didn’t know how to handle it.

“I ended up not posting anything because I thought it wasn’t my place. I’ve been thinking about it all weekend and I feel like I should have. It makes me question if I’m good at my job. And I’m questioning how I performed at my job, so does that make me a terrible human?”

No, of course it doesn’t. It just makes those of us in the social media realm human, period. People who want to do their jobs well, even when the context of their jobs changes.

The most eloquent words I read through any medium this week came from a first grader named John. John lost his best friend Jack Pinto on Friday. He wrote:


You are my best friend.

We had fun together.

I will miss you.

I will talk to you in my prayers.

I love you Jack.



Simple. No motive other than grief and love. There doesn’t seem to be much else to say.


I wrote this post to share these thoughts, but also to hear how others handled their personal and professional brands in the aftermath of Newtown. What did you struggle with? What did you notice other businesses doing?

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