As more brands begin to focus on social media marketing, you might find yourself in the middle of a discussion involving current events, many of which may include man-made tragedies or natural disasters. Lately, I’ve had several brand managers and business owners ask me, “What do I do when tragedy strikes? Should I change my social media marketing strategy?” In the aftermath of news such as a celebrity death or a natural tragedy, it’s imperative that you take a step back and question the best way to handle these unfortunate situations.

If You Can Help, Help

If you have a service that will help others, dive in and show the community that you’re involved and that you care. Take the Paris attacks, the San Bernardino shooting, the Boston Marathon, Hurricane Sandy, or Hurricane Katrina, just to name a few examples. Brands and companies of all sizes – from local retailers, laundromats, and restaurants to Duracell, Starbucks, and various celebrities – helped people by donating food, laundry, access to phones, and their time. Not only does this kind of support physically help those in their time of need, but it can help to build brand loyalty as well.

If You Can’t Help, Get Out of the Way

If tragedy strikes and you don’t have any services or products that could help those who have been affected, stop your social media marketing strategy or rework it to show empathy and compassion for those involved. There’s nothing more inappropriate and insensitive than a brand continuing to post the benefits of their products or services when their consumers are trying to handle a crisis.

So, how do you know when it’s okay to resume your business?

Keep your pulse on your consumer. Read their Facebook posts and tweets. Look at their IG accounts. When you see that their social media channels aren’t consumed with the aftermath of a tragedy and they appear to go back to normal, so can you. Keep in mind that the closer your business is to a tragic event, the longer it will take before the community moves on. Since your business is also a member of the community, use your judgement to help you in making the best decision possible.

What to Do if Your Social Media Marketing Strategy Fails

In some cases, you might have a tweet or post planned in advance and a tragedy strikes at the same time. Without even realizing it, you inadvertently release an insensitive campaign, and now your consumers are up in arms, calling your brand “insensitive.” When this happens, don’t ignore the situation under any circumstances. Instead, pull any offensive promotional materials or advertising, be as transparent as possible, and apologize as sincerely as possible.

Above all, let human nature be your guide. Focus on your audience, truly understand what they’re going through, and market your brand accordingly. While pulling a strategy for a few weeks may slightly hurt your business, ignoring tragedies and continuing with your advertising and social media marketing in the wake of a tragedy can be much more harmful on how your brand is perceived in the long run.

Do you have any tips for handling a social media strategy following a tragedy?