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How to Talk About Bad News on Your Community

Written by Molly Talbert | on August 16, 2016 at 8:00 AM
How to talk about bad news in your online community

When the news shakes our perception of the world, what are you supposed to do as a community manager? On the one hand, your community is for a specific purpose and may not need to weigh in on every happening. On the other hand, you’re a community where people care for each other and support one another on a human level.

No matter what your community is for or who is in it, your members -- and you -- are affected by the news every day.

Sometimes news is good, leaving people happy and excited. But often the news that flashes across our screens and embeds itself in our social media feeds is far from good. And these events greatly affect how people feel, and even affect their ability to participate in the community.

Community management involves many skills, but one of the most important is empathy -- recognizing other peoples’ feelings, including pain.

Often, brands shouldn’t interfere -- it can come across as disingenuous or too separate from what the company works for, almost as if they are trying to take advantage of the situation and insert themselves where they don’t belong. But to continue on, business as usual, without acknowledging what’s on everyone’s minds? That can look equally insensitive.

And what if the news is tangentially related to the community you serve? Sometimes, a tragedy directly affects your members, even if it’s not related to your mission, and sometimes a tragedy impacts your mission and not your members.

So now it feels like you’re stuck in a catch-22 -- you want to acknowledge the pain your members feel and the impact on your community, without sounding insensitive or speaking up when you don’t have anything relevant to say.

I’m sorry to say that we don’t know the answer. Everyone who manages communities, social media or brands is figuring out how to balance empathy -- real empathy -- with their online world. Here are a few resources to help you figure out the strategy you think will work best with your community:

1. How to Build an Empathetic Social Media Strategy for Times of Tragedy, Erica McGillivray of Moz

When a shocking or traumatic event takes over the news, should you stop your social media feeds? In this post, Erica, Senior Community Manager at Moz, talks about their ongoing thought process regarding this question. She argues that, by tweeting as usual, your company can look insensitive or disconnected to what’s on everyone’s minds.

2. CMX Hub Facebook post

This Facebook post, started by CMX’s Carrie Melissa Jones, is all about community manager real talk. Full of questions, advice, thoughts and links, this is a must read for anyone grappling with how to respond to events and news.

3. How to Be a Good Digital Citizen in an Angry World, Rachel Happe

In this thoughtful piece, The Community Roundtable’s Rachel Happe talks about what it takes to be a good person online when so many people are angry. Rather than get caught up and becoming filled with anxiety, Rachel lays out ways to learn, be respectful and continue building community -- even when it looks like things are beginning to unravel.

4. If you or your organization feels helpless right now, Ann Benovic

Ann Benovic, Senior Community Education Manager for Kickstarter, wrote a very thoughtful piece on what to do if you or your organization feels helpless when tragedy hits. She says if your community is comprised of humans, act like a human -- she offers good examples of empathetic corporate responses.

Continue the conversation

What do you think? How does your community respond to tragedy?


Topics: Online Community Management, Collaboration Tools, Online Community

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