How to handle public events with tact and understanding

There have been some pretty big happenings recently. In the space of five short years, we’ve had three Prime Ministers, we’ve officially left the European Union, we’ve navigated a global pandemic, we’ve lost our Queen, and witnessed a rollercoaster battle between two caterpillar cakes.

It’s been a wild ride, for sure!

So, it’s no wonder that businesses have wanted to reference these mammoth events in their marketing. Shed loads of companies have jumped on these stories, creating clever and memorable posts or even whole campaigns that pay homage to a particular moment in time. Some have even based their whole online persona around what’s going on in the media (I’m looking at you, PaddyPower).

While a timely post can do wonderful things for your brand and online image, dropping a clanger can do the exact opposite.

So how do you judge what’s going on? How do you make sure your content doesn’t hit the wrong nerve, or turn your followers off your brand entirely? 

In my many years working in the social media industry, I have seen endless examples of businesses that handle public events well, and tonnes of instances that have made my toes curl. Here’s my two cents on how you can approach using newsworthy events in your social content.

1. Have your opinion, but don’t offend people for the sake of it

We all have our opinions, and in theory, we’re entitled to do what we want with them. When it comes to your business, however, it’s worth thinking about how that opinion will land with your audience. I’ve seen some pretty distasteful and downright offensive stuff on social media after a big event, often related to political preferences or personal beliefs that shouldn’t really be aligned with an organisation at all. Sometimes I think it’s just for shock value to get more engagement. Don’t be the person who makes a big splash for attention – you might end up drowning out your brand’s voice entirely.

2. Stay true to your brand voice

EVERYTHING you do online should match your brand voice. I honestly can’t express how important this is. People will be confused - and likely switch off completely - if you start rambling on about heavy, complex topics when you usually keep things light. Unless your brand is based on expert-level insights into weightier world matters, speak and show up as you normally would.

3. Read the room

Different social media platforms have different vibes and communities. Twitter tends to be a bit more casual than LinkedIn, for example. The audiences you have on each of them are likely to want and need different things from your brand. If you want to talk about something online that you’ve not broached before, think carefully about how you want to get your point across and how that information will be interpreted by your potential customers on each of the platforms you’re using.

4. Be original

We’ve all seen those viral posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram; people constantly sharing the same old opinions hoping to get a taste of some high engagement rates. Let me tell you now, it’s just not worth it. Being original is worth so much more than following the crowd. Focus on developing posts, videos, and other types of content that celebrate your uniqueness instead of pulling you into a whinge-fest that will probably end up damaging your brand’s reputation.

5. Be timely

If you want to talk about something that’s happening in the news - do it straight away! There’s almost nothing worse than a zombie post that’s still talking about Brexit in 2022, or lockdown survival tips two years after the world opened up.

If this means adjusting your pre-scheduled posts, then so be it. By the same token, make sure that any pre-planned content doesn’t clash with unexpected world events. Keep a constant eye on your calendar so you can be ready to delete or move any posts that might be best saved for another day.

Have you come across any major content faux pas in the last few years – or have you made any mistakes yourself that you’ve learned from? I’d love to hear your own stories.


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