Prince, Victoria Wood, Ronnie Corbett, Paul Daniels, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, David Bowie – like the rest of the world, you’ll likely recognise these famous figures as just some of 2016’s fallen stars, and we have social media to thank for sharing the news first.

But it’s not just fans taking to the digital arena to alert their followers to celebrity tragedies. Companies and brands are jumping on the bandwagon to declare their shock and grief too.

While many pay fitting and meaningful tributes, others are clearly an awkward attempt to cash in on hot topics. The most common reaction social media is experiencing from brands is the communication of condolences using product placement and irrelevant links to services.

One of the latest to fail by taking an inappropriate opportunistic approach was Homebase, following the death of Prince. Taking to its Twitter presence, the Homebase Customer Service Team published:

“Good morning everyone, happy Friday. If you need assistance we’re here until 8pm today, get tweeting. Have a good day! #RIPPRINCE.”

The message was later removed and Homebase claimed to “sincerely apologise for any offence this has caused”. The company obviously wanted to distance itself from its misjudgement, but with the post meeting widespread online criticism it would seem to be a case of too little too late.

Brands capitalising on tragedy quickly lose authenticity. By degrading the tone of social voice, this presents a significant risk of sustaining long-term, potentially irreparable damage to a company’s reputation.

Celebrities are established brands in their own right and if your brand has a strong, true connection then you belong in the conversation. If your link is tenuous at best, steer clear. Remember, it is not your moment.

If we consider celebrity tragedies from recent years, some company and brand reactions could be seen as leading best practice, namely through the promotion of helpful and supportive social messages.

An example of the positive effect this can bring to society, both on and offline, was seen following the passing of Robin Williams, who had a high profile battle with depression.  Once evidence came to light that the star took his own life, some relevant organisations posted suicide prevention phone-line numbers with the hope to help those suffering in silence.

Social media performs best when it offers users added value. If you’re considering posting a message in relation to a notable event such as the death of a famous person, ask yourself this:  does your brand has something to offer the conversation?

Respectful posts equal respect from followers and position companies and brands as purveyors of social worth, rather than using digital memorials as a self-promotional platform.

Social media can be a tricky tool and getting it wrong can have devastating effects to your company profile or brand positioning.

When it comes to a high profile tragedy, be sensitive to the situation and consider your audience. Make a worthwhile and authentic contribution and don’t get involved just because it’s trending.

To learn more about our proactive and reactive social media consultancy services, email us.