What did you do when you heard the news that Robin Williams died? For many people, the answer to that question was turn to social media. #RIPRobinWilliams was the top trending hashtag on Twitter within minutes of the announcement of the beloved star’s death; Facebook and Tumblr struggled to contain a tsunami of users’ favorite Robin Williams images and quotes.
If we ever needed proof of the social in social media, this is it. Grief is a very primal emotion; it’s a state everyone experiences and no one enjoys. Hardwired into our psyches and reinforced with generation upon generation of cultural influences is the lesson that when we’re sad, we mourn, and when we mourn, we do so in such a way that others know we’re in pain.
In ancient times, public grieving was considered so important that an entire profession – wailing women – sprung up to ensure that no one left this mortal coil unremarked. Today, we’ve seen that same cultural need being met on a volunteer basis via social media.
Whether it’s the avalanche of grief that manifests in the wake of a celebrity’s passing or the hundreds of thousands of memorial pages set up after personal tragedies, social media has become the place we go to talk about death, loss, and sorrow. Facebook, bringer of Candy Crush, is also the vehicle of choice to discuss our most intimate, personal experiences.
As brand managers and business leaders, we need to understand this phenomenon and how it impacts our company’s messaging on social media. There’s a time and a place for everything; on a day when you know your customers are thinking about a sad event, acknowledging this tastefully is perfectly appropriate. Best practices here are to keep your messaging simple and on point, stating what happened, expressing your shared sentiment of grief, and that’s it. In this way, you demonstrate your understanding and bond with your customers, strengthening the relationship during the sad times and building for happier days to come.