When should your brand go dark on social media?
And when is it safe after a crisis to start posting again?
· 4 min read
May 31, 2020 was the saddest day in the history of Twitter, according to hedonometer.org. It’s a real-time online measurement tool that judges Twitter’s sadness-happiness ratio. George Floyd had been murdered six days before. Most of us were months into quarantine. Many protested and coped through keyboards, tweeting feelings on those events loudly enough to score a 5.6 happiness score on the Hedonometer. “Arrested,” “murder,” and “violence” were tweeted more than ever before.
I was a strategy director for R/GA at the time, working on Verizon from a shoebox New York apartment, wildly depressed from isolation and 12-hour, work-from-home days. Like everyone else in social jobs that year, I was asked the most common crisis question:
When is it okay for brands to post content during a national crisis?
There’s no perfect answer, but considering we’ve had several mass shootings in the last week alone, I’ll walk you through how I’ve advised brands in the past.
When should your brand stop posting during a crisis?
I don’t have a scientific answer for you, but a one-liner for judgment calls: If you’re wondering if your brand should go silent, you should.
Your brand gets nothing out of tossing up organic content on the same day as a mass shooting, or invasion, or major political moment. I promise you, your content isn’t so important that it absolutely must go up that day. I don’t care if you’re launching a major campaign you’ve worked on for years—hit pause. Send the all-staff email, and delay all actions. We. Work. In. Marketing. Our. Content. Doesn’t. Matter.
Your content can’t succeed, anyway. Do you really want to launch that campaign when the overall sentiment of Twitter is below average, or even dire? Is that the audience mood you’re looking for?
As Sprout Social said, “Never underestimate the value of saying nothing.”
When is it okay for our brand to start posting again?
The answer’s gonna be different for every brand, but we came up with as elegant a solution as possible at R/GA. Using tech similar to the aforementioned Hedonometer, our data and marketing sciences team proposed we set a minimum global sentiment score that must be reached for a brand to resume posting.
A Social Media Newsletter by Jack Appleby
I want to be clear, here: We didn’t use global sentiment scores to decide if you should stop posting. As I said above, if you’re even wondering if you should be posting, you shouldn’t. But after we’d taken a day or two off based on gut feeling (and a whole lot of executive email alignment), we’d begin checking global sentiment to see if we’d reached our minimum score.
Now you get the slightly uncomfortable exercise of quantifying human emotion to set your brand’s minimum global sentiment score.
Here’s the Hedonometer’s results from the last 18 months.
As you can see, Twitter’s scored above a 6.0 on the happiness chart most of 2022, with traumatic events expectedly bringing sentiment down. I’d likely make that my minimum global sentiment score to resume safely posting for brands.
To show you how to that’d play out in practice, let’s apply the thinking to the document leak of the opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The document leaked the night of May 2, 2022. As soon as your social team caught wind of the leak, your brand should have immediately turned off all social content, pulling all scheduled posts, with plans to begin measuring global sentiment daily after a 24-hour silence.
On May 3, your brand checks hedonometer.org for global sentiment. Because it’s below a 6.0, your brand would continue your silence that day. On May 4, two days after the incident, the Hedonometer reached a 6.01—based on your previously established baseline, you’re clear to post again, though with an open eye.
If you’re unsure, stand still
I’ll parrot myself again: Get a system in place. Get a chain of communication in place. But if you ever wonder, just stay off the internet.