boston strong red sox

The phrase “Boston Strong” became prominent in the wake of the bombings. This is the Red Sox take on the saying.

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, an event that became an international tragedy when three people were killed and dozens were injured, brought up a lot of ethical questions for journalists and companies in terms of what constitutes ethical behavior on social media.

It seems that ethics is in the eye of the beholder in both of the cases that Justin discussed this week in lecture: a news organization asking its Facebook fans to “like” a post about a recovering victim and Ford Motor Company posting a photo of two Ford emergency vehicles and thanking Boston first responders. (More information on those posts here.)

I’m sure both organizations only had the best intentions at heart when crafting these posts – I surely hope that is the case. There could be things that they did differently, however.

Perhaps the news organization didn’t need to tell people to “like” the post to wish the boy a speedy recovery. It is a widely stated fact that actually telling people what to do with a post (like, comment, share) gets more engagement on Facebook, so it’s likely the news organization was trying to engage their fans the way they probably always do. In this case though, the content pretty much speaks for itself and asking people to “like” probably wasn’t necessary.

Either way, the news organization and Ford Motor Company are darned if they do, darned if they don’t. Some people will see such posts as a show of solidarity with those experiencing the tragedy while others will see the brand as trying to cash in on tragedy. That’s exactly the kind of mixed response that Ford’s post got.

It’s funny though: Many experts and pundits say that “brands should be human” on social media. Yet when brands try to do this and have a human reaction to a horrific event along with the rest of us, they’re seen as trying to cash in rather than have a reaction. There seemed to be no great backlash from the general public when the Boston Red Sox rolled out their version of “Boston Strong” (logo shown above). Why was this show of solidarity acceptable while Ford’s was not? Both graphics featured the use of a well-known logo of a corporate entity.

I think there is no clear ethical answer here, unless a brand appears to be blatantly trying to use a tragedy to sell something. When brands create social media posts trying to empathize with a situation, even when they feel they are treading sensitively, it will just rub some people the wrong way. That shouldn’t stop them from trying but that is the main thing to remember – act with sensitivity, and run the post by as many people as possible.