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How Can You Be So Insensitive?

We often discuss how brands must be much more personal to create equity in the age of social media, but when the relationship between brand and consumer becomes so intimate, the negative impact of a breach of trust can be exponentially greater than ever before.

Hurricane Sandy was an opportunity for social media to show off some of its best sides; Facebook and Twitter played a large role in preventing unnecessary injuries and loss of life during the storm, enabling real time communications that aided evacuation and served as a primary informational resource for those stranded or without power. The hashtag #SMEM (or Social Media Emergency Management) has been picking up steam in recent years, as more people and public safety organizations realize the value of these networks in times of emergency; Sandy was a resonating proof of concept.

Social media also has served the citizens of the affected areas in the aftermath of the storm. Awareness for the needs of aid groups like the Red Cross is at an all time high, making relief more efficient. Local communities are leveraging their networks to organize cleanup and rebuilding initiatives. The power of these tools mean that our nation will face future disaster level events far better prepared than ever before.

On the other side of the coin, there were some severe missteps by brands communicating via social media platforms during the storm that just didn’t sit right with many individuals. In an age where we have the ability to geotarget messaging, it was unnecessary for Groupon and LivingSocial to offer its latest great deals for restaurants that were closed without electricity, or the attractions that would be closed for the next week dealing with water damage from flooding. Gap and American Apparel both touched a nerve with communications about shopping during the storm. Furthermore, the storm arrived just before Halloween, and some Tweeting businesses failed to understand that most residents of New York and New Jersey weren’t exactly feeling up to partying late into the night. In the moment, many brands simply did not exercise common sense.

It is crucial to avoid mistakes like these that can destroy loyalties so easily in an increasingly volatile marketplace. Businesses would benefit far more from sending one less tweet and steering clear of insensitivity. Social media is about conversation; brands must avoid faux-pas like these to keep relationships strong.

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