When sad things happen in the world, most people are driven to talk about them as a way of getting closure. This has never been more clear than in today’s super-connected, highly-social online world. The time between a sad event occurring and the first tweet going out is almost too short to measure.

In these situations, business owners or brand managers are faced with a choice: to comment, or to leave some things unsaid. While there are certainly no hard and fast rules for what, when, and how to address a tragedy, it’s always best to get a second opinion instead of reacting instantly. Before you post, tweet, or publish, take a moment to ask yourself why you are commenting, what you wish to convey, and how best to get your message across.

We bring this topic up today in response to the sad passing of legendary author and poet Maya Angelou on May 28th. Over her decades-long career in writing, acting, and politics, Angelou touched millions of people’s lives – as evidenced by the tremendous outpouring of support and remembrances found on social media since her death yesterday. But it’s not just individuals paying tribute, it’s also brands. If you’ve felt compelled to speak out about a sad event through your own brand’s voice, but have been unsure how to do so without seeming inappropriate, take a note from the brands below (yes, people can be brands, too).

Bear in mind that there is a right and a wrong way to join the conversation. If your only goal is to get a boost in traffic or garner a few hundred Facebook likes, you’re probably going to do it the wrong way. But if your intentions are to pay tribute or identify with something your fans may be feeling, you’re on the right track.

Here are some examples of how to address tragedy respectfully on social media:

1. Share a personal moment
If you had a personal connection to a sad event, be open about it and share your experience with your followers like Oprah did on her Instagram account:

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2. Create a tribute gallery
Take the time to collect images and quotes that pay tribute and give your followers a chance to spend some time reflecting, like GlobalGrind did on their website:

maya_angelou_gallery

3. Express gratitude
If your brand had an interaction or was influenced in a particular way, show that to your followers who might not have known about the connection, like Sesame Street did on Twitter:

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sesame_street_sweet

Do you have an example of a brand reacting to a sad event in just the right way? Tell us about it in the comments below.

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the product marketing manager and resident blogger for Pagemodo. Loves social media, branding, whales. Get more from Sarah on Pagemodo’s Blog and Google+.

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