How NOT to Use Hashtags & RTs in a Crisis

American fashion house Kenneth Cole, known for its socially conscious advertising, created a Twitter storm when, during the height of Cairo protests for democracy, on a day in which it was estimated that thirteen protestors were killed and hundreds more injured in Cairo, the erstwhile social media-savvy Kenneth Cole sent a message from its Twitter account that plainly aimed to use the Twitter trending topic to shamelessly promote its spring collection: 

"Millions are in uproar in #Cairo.  Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at [LINK] -KC" 

Kenneth Cole tweeted an apology when a Twitter uproar ensued that blasted Kenneth Cole for its shameless self-promotion on the back of human suffering. 

Despite this glaring example of how not to tweet in the mouth of human tragedy, Microsoft search engine Bing did its best to outdo the Kenneth Cole mistweet by attempting to ride another trending topic of human suffering, the terrible destruction and loss of human life from Japan's Sendai earthquake and tsunami:


A brand asking for a retweet of its name in return for a $1 donation to a relief fund, capped at $100,000, in the midst of a devastating loss of human life, is...let's try:  shameless, despicable...

Once again, perfunctory apology tweeted.

3 Social Media Tips During a Crisis

1.  Learn what Twitter hashtags are being used during a crisis.

Typically during a crisis, several hashtags appear, allowing the crisis to be followed with a high degree of precision, based on hashtags that identify given aspects of the crisis.  Understand what the hashtag means.  If you're trying to find out what a Twitter hashtag means, there is a site you can visit for some help:  What the hashtag?

2. Never use a crisis hashtag for anything other than important information related to the crisis. 

In many cases, those in the midst of a crisis are using the hashtags to relate real-time information to emergency responders and families and friends of victims.  Emergency management professionals and a dedicated group of volunteers will also be using the hashtags to pass on critical information.  Do not clutter important crisis hashtag streams with banter that does not advance a greater understanding of the crisis or in any way hampers the ability of victims, rescuers, relief organization, families and friends to convey critical information in the most streamlined manner.  (You might consider including subject, without the hashtag.)

3.  Keep advertising out of Twitter crisis hashtag streams. 

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