How to Use Twitter Marketing During National Tragedies

Twitter Marketing

How Not To Tweet:  Product Placement + Historic Remembrance Equals Marketing Fail

One of the hardest questions for marketers to address is how use Twitter marketing during times of tragedy. Regrettably, it’s one that comes up several times a year in every market with fresh events, not to mention as annual memorials of events such as the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Like tragedy itself, knowing if and how to market around times of collective grief and remembrance is challenging. And in the aftermath, it seems that there’s always someone who makes a mistake that goes viral on social networks, and we all learn a little bit more about the range of expectations our audiences have in such moments.

The recent anniversary of the 9/11 attacks brought mostly subdued reactions from marketers. Many posted patriotic themed pictures and more reflective posts. Some marketers continued to sell while others decided to halt sales messages in a gesture of respect for the weight of the day.

And unfortunately, some got it wrong.

AT&T tweeted a picture showing the World Trade Center and where the Twin Towers used to be with a perfectly matched picture superimposed on top that showed the Twin Towers.  Unfortunately, that picture on top was as viewed on a smartphone screen.

The backlash was pretty strong and pretty consistent.  While it might have been well intentioned, it failed.

How AT&T’s Twitter Marketing Failed
When you’re communicating a sense of respect for lives lost during a tragedy, the bottom line is this: it’s not the time to promote your product.

You must choose one response or the other – marketing or choosing not to market out of respect. Blurring the line and having even the hint of using the tragedy to push your product or service will always come off as being insensitive and tacky (at best). 

How to Avoid Epic Twitter Marketing Failures

#1 – Be clear in your intention

It’s likely that AT&T didn’t intend to offend the large number of people who ended up angry at their post. But because their intent appeared mixed, that’s the way it was received.

If you’ve decided to communicate a sense of sorrow or grief for the remembrance of an event such as 9/11, any appearance of trying to profit must be removed.  Period. 

On the other hand, if you choose to market, do not use the event in your marketing. Period. 

Grief and push-marketing messages do not mix in the eyes of your public.

#2 – Have someone else review your content

It’s easy to take your own intentions for granted and miss any possible offense your anniversary-day social media posts might cause. It’s always good to find someone you know who has a high emotional-quotient and ability to be sensitive to others’ needs. Have him or her review your proposed posts to make sure you haven’t overlooked something likely to cause hurt or offense.

#3 – Keep tabs on reactions

More than any day, a day of tragedy or its anniversary is an important one to keep careful watch on your social media accounts. In the event of a misstep, you want to be able to respond thoughtfully and quickly and remove anything that your public is offended by.

These days you’re not the only one who creates your brand – your customers do too. Respectful give and take between you and your audience is the best way to market in a thoughtful and non-offensive manner no matter what’s going on in the world.

QUESTION:  What’s your best advice for marketing during sensitive periods?


  1. I agree with everything you mentioned but as we have reached a point of instant communication sometimes what we thought would be an "innocent" post can suddenly become very insensitive with breaking news. I had that happen last year when the Newtown school shootings occurred. Day by day, moment by moment, the winds change so we have to be prepared to act accordingly.

  2. I think having another set of eyes on your writing always makes sense, even on normal occasions. Unfortunately many people don't have that addition pair of eyes. I recommend letting your message "age" at least overnight and looking at it with a fresh perspective. As you review, take yourself out of the picture and imagine how others might reaction.

  3. Informative post! Marketing in such a way that encourages everyone to move forward during sensitive periods is worth trying. What do you think?

  4. On days like these the best that one can do is to step out of the marketing role and be a citizen. Post news or information updates. Post phone numbers and directions ti shelters/ hot lines etc.  DONT MARKET. 


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