We see and experience a wide spectrum of human emotion in the wake of tragedies.
Many look to leaders, both on the national stage and in their own communities, for comfort, hope, and guidance, as everyone tries to make sense of what’s happened.
However, your natural reaction to tragedy as a citizen may not coincide with what’s best for your business and firm.
Separating your personal and professional views is part of the job description, and that should include separating content you post and share between your personal and professional accounts.
We’re not claiming to know the “Ten Commandments of Social Media Management in Times of Tragedy,” or else this post would be titled as such. The fact of the matter is that every tragedy is different, and your position as an attorney may lend itself to commenting on a situation. Your professional audience very well may appreciate your opinion on a subject, or even your thoughts and prayers.
That being said, going through the following mental checklist before posting or sharing content on social media in times of tragedy could save you and your firm from embarrassment, public outrage, and the loss of clients.
Should I Post?
That is the most important question to ask yourself before engaging your law firm in social media activity after a tragedy.
You might see an outpouring of support for victims from your family’s, friends’, and even other attorneys’ social media pages. Facebook profile pictures are turned into symbols of solidarity. Twitter hashtags take over as people tweet out their sentiments of support. Seeing all this may have you asking yourself, “Should my law firm be posting something about this tragedy?”
It’s possible that posting from your law firm’s social media accounts may legitimately benefit your audience, either comforting them in a time of vulnerability or educating them on a confusing legal issue that arises after a tragedy.
Before posting or sharing anything from your professional accounts, make sure to ask yourself the following questions:
1) Is my law firm related to the tragic event?
Your law firm may be related to a tragic event in a variety of ways.
- You might be an insurance or real estate lawyer who can explain the implications of a hurricane or tsunami leaving people homeless and causing millions of dollars of property damage.
- You might be a personal injury lawyer who can explain how victims of a mass shooting or bombing can find the medical help they need without going broke.
- You might be an intellectual property attorney with intimate knowledge of copyright ownership, or a will and probate attorney with years of experience, who could legitimately help break down the details of the property and estate of a cultural icon who passed away without leaving a will.
Or a tragic event may have affected your own community, a place where you might be recognized as a leader.
In these instances, you may feel a call to post to your social media pages in order to either educate your professional audience or even comfort those who have been affected. Your knowledge of the legal issues at hand, or your involvement in a community that is affected, can constitute a strong argument to post a statement or share some relevant content after a tragedy.
But don’t try to sell.
We certainly would not fault a law firm for sincerely reaching out to the people of its community if they have been affected by tragedy, but posting “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the deadly shooting in our beloved city. If you or a loved one has been injured in the shooting, or has been involved in an auto accident, hurt on the job, or due to negligence, call Mathews, Matthews, and Matthewson for a free consultation. Our personal injury attorneys will get you the compensation you deserve!” would be ill-advised, to say the least, and would be viewed as offensive by most people.
Anytime it comes across that you’re trying to leverage a tragedy to bring in new business, it’s generally not going to go over well. Consider, for example, this post from clothing label American Apparel.
Or this gem from Papa Johns, which might seem innocuous – even noble – to some, but definitely comes across as manipulative and self-serving to many.
What seems like a great idea from a marketing perspective may end up being a disaster from a public relations perspective.
Which leads us to our next question…
2) Would my post offend anybody or group of people?
Generally speaking, capitalizing on tragedy is not looked upon with great favor by the public. It’s offensive, and is definitely on the “don’t do” list of social media. No matter what realm of law you practice, there’s no excuse for using the vulnerability of people as an opportunity to sell your services.
This can be the particularly difficult part of social media management during tragedies. Knowing what somebody or a group of people might find offensive can be very subjective.
The aforementioned example of Matthews, Matthews, and Matthewson should be pretty easy to identify as offensive, but where exactly is the line drawn? What’s the point of posting on social media during a tragedy if you might just end up hurting your firm’s brand and reputation (we’ll touch on that in a bit)?
In the infinite spectrum of public opinion, chances are you might upset somebody regardless of what you post or share on social media after a tragedy. Even if they don’t explicitly say they’re offended, some people just have bad taste left in their mouths by anything. Those aren’t necessarily the people we’re worried about offending, but it’s important to understand if your goal of using social media is, ultimately, to land new clients.
Your firm’s audience on social media is likely a combination of people you’ve worked with in the past, friends, family, and other legal professionals in your network. You certainly don’t want to post or share anything that would upset them, but more importantly, you don’t want to post or share anything that might offend people that find your page while searching for an attorney.
How do you do that?
Avoid being political. You might have a great deal of knowledge on gun ownership legislation, but posting or sharing articles about gun legislation after a mass shooting immediately divides people. Your thought might be to present the information or content to your audience to establish yourself as a subject matter expert, but many people will see that social media activity as political and upsetting.
In fact, it’s usually best to stay away from anything political on social media, unless you’re willing to have your firm pay for the consequences. This, for example, is no way act on social media if you’re interested in gaining new clients.
But even if you’re staying away from offensive and politically divisive material, there’s still one more question to ask yourself.
3) Am I posting for the sake of posting?
In the name of being deliberate and intentional, you should always ask yourself if you’re posting on social media because you have something worthwhile to say, or if you simply want people to see you’ve acknowledged a tragedy and try to use that to boost your social media profiles.
If you’re going to post or share something, make it count.
Make it count for your law firm’s brand, your business, and for the audience you’re posting to. People can recognize insincerity, especially with businesses on the internet.
If you’ve asked yourself all the above questions and come to the conclusion that your firm needs to post on social media about a tragedy, be as close to 100-percent sure that it will have a positive impact. Tragedies are sensitive situations, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of an argument or just looked down on for using a situation to boost your social media presence.
At the end of the day…
All of your well-wishing sentiments, political opinions, and other responses to national tragedies can be reserved for your personal social media pages.
Comedian John Oliver nailed this idea on the head when speaking about businesses involving themselves with commentary on sensitive subjects, saying,
“Your silence is never going to be controversial.”
In all likelihood, people won’t get angry about your law firm sending thoughts and prayers to those who have been harmed, but they also won’t get angry that you didn’t make a statement at all.
If you have questions…
We love helping attorneys market themselves in the digital world, and we’ve got plenty of content about how to shape your social media presence if you haven’t quite figured it out yet. Feel free to contact us, and we’ll get you on the road to success in the digital world.
If you’re struggling with coming up with ideas for what to post on your social media profiles, check out our blog post 101 Social Media Post Ideas for Attorneys & Law Firms. (Yes, there really are 101 ideas.)