Politics aside, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a brand. Because of social media, the horrific Sandy Hook, CT school shooting this month was a PR crisis for the NRA in a different, more intense way than past violent events involving firearms.
Moments before the news broke on Friday 12/14/12, at 9:35AM EST the NRA Facebook page posted about a giveaway. Shortly thereafter, news outlets announced the Sandy Hook massacre that killed twenty-six people, including twenty children. That evening, the NRA took down their page. They withheld comment until they reactivated it on 12/18/12 with a post explaining their silence:
…Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting…
I see the reasoning for preventing intense flame wars:
“As a PR professional, it goes against my instincts and the recommendations I make to clients who stop posting on social media channels in times of crisis,” says Stu Opperman, chief strategist at Impact Players. “[But] with the nation’s collective emotions as raw as they were, any immediate post the NRA made, short of a complete reversal of their long-held position opposing nearly any form of gun control, would be demonized and seen as callous and unfeeling…” –prweekus.com 12/20/12
One could argue that going dark demonstrates a lack of understanding of social media (focus on transparency). The avoidant reaction was meant to halt the onslaught of an emotionally and politically charged conversation and the demand for a response they did not have.
Going Dark Sends Two Possible Messages
Message 1: We don’t know how to handle this crisis.
- Mea culpa (intentional or not)
- Silencing the conversation to avoid further controversy (a temporary and singular solution)
- Kneejerk reaction demonstrating lack of crisis management plan
Being present on social is not a switch you turn on and off as it suits your brand.
But was this instance an exception?
Retail analogy: Your Facebook page is your storefront – your business address. It’s what you post on that page (i.e., what you stock on your shelves or display in your windows) that sends a message.
Have a crisis gameplan. Learn from the multitude of social media blunders. This was new territory. What would you do?
*My sympathies go out to anyone grieving over this tragedy. This post is about social media and is not meant to take a stance on violence, gun control, or politics.