Quiet Time: When Your Social Media Strategy Is to Go Dark

There’s no such thing as “business as usual” when your audience is distracted by or anxious about major events.

Going dark on social media: If this sounds like a setting to reduce app brightness, your crisis communications strategy may not be up to date. Of course, this isn’t necessarily about a crisis at your organization. In fact, there may not be any crisis at all. But if you are talking about going dark on your social media and digital channels, something is happening in your community or the world. And now is not the time to grab attention for your brand.

When an outside event draws extensive attention—globally, nationally, or even in your community—it is time to consider going dark on your organization’s social media and silencing outgoing digital communications. Why? By going dark, your organization takes a back seat to whatever is happening in the world. And, when the world is full of noise, it really is okay to take a breath and wait. Your followers will thank you for it, even if they don’t quite realize it is happening. Because, in putting your social media campaigns on pause, you agree that the present moment is not about you.

So now you know: Going dark has nothing to do with adjusting the brightness of your screen. Instead, dark-on-social has a lot to do with listening and being thoughtful. But with so much constantly happening in the world, when exactly should your brand go dark on social media? And what kind of social media etiquette steps should you take to do it right?

A Simple Request

“Please—silence your cellphone.” Remember hearing the phrase that everywhere you went? It’s the same announcement that would come at the start of a movie or a live performance, and could be found inside libraries and galleries, or even checkout counters. A simple request, the phrase indicated that you shared a space with others. And these people did not come to a restaurant or theater for the pleasure of hearing your phone ring. So, could you show them the courtesy of silencing your cellphone? Sure, you could. The change was easy enough. Simply press a button or slide your finger across a screen. Now, there would be no disruptions or unexpected distractions.

green wooden chair on white surface in empty room

In busy, community spaces, the courteous act of silencing a cellphone helped cut down on the noise. And, in a way, silencing your brand’s social media and digital messages acts in the same way. 

At Epic Marketing, our own social media goes dark when an event draws extensive national attention, and we advise our clients to take similar steps. Simply put, if we were to post, we know those posts would get lost in the noise—or that our messages may not necessarily be wanted by our followers in the moment. Sometimes, our dark-on-social days can be anticipated and planned for ahead of time. For example, it could be that we are taking a step back to respect a certain holiday or social movement. Other days, going dark can be a sudden change of course and decided in response to breaking news.

But if dark-on-social days may be known in advance or come up at the drop of a hat, how can any social media manager get their work done? As always, the answer is in your audience. Don’t forget to read the room before you post.

Social Media is More Than Cat Videos

Any social media manager knows that their job has more to do with relationships than viral cat videos. Running a social media channel requires both good organization skills and quick thinking. Yes – that means being a deliberate planner and a reactionary creative who is okay with seeing plans fall apart. That amazing campaign you spent months planning? It doesn’t matter how much you love it or how long the launch date has been marked on the calendar if a local or national crisis is unfolding. Sometimes, you have to pick up your plans and make a new one.

As a social media manager, a person can be a producer, editor, news director, and change-maker all at once. They should be following the news and community events. It’s been said that digital marketers should feel a little fear or apprehension before they hit “send” or “post.” When they do, it signals that they understand the gravity of their actions. With access to a social media account or email list, they have access to the tools that could either propel their success or alienate their audience. Over the summer, Digiday reported that many communicators were deciding to press pause on campaigns and both marketers and followers alike were taking a hard look at influencer marketing: “Doing something for a photo or for clout hasn’t gone over well in this moment and likely won’t going forward.”

It would seem that sometimes social media actually isn’t all about you. And that is when it is time to go dark on social media.

How Can Marketers Adjust?

While keeping a pulse on the community can help avoid a tone-deaf situation unfolding online, there are some gut-check questions social media managers and communications directors can ask themselves in times of digital uncertainty.

  • Does my audience want to see this content right now?
  • What content does my audience need to see right now?
  • Can this content wait for another day?
  • How will this content make my audience feel?

This list is not exhaustive. It can (and should!) be personalized to fit your brand or organization. There is no one-size-fit-all solution. For example, in times of crisis, it might be appropriate for a non-profit or religious organization to step up with messages of hope or links to helpful resources.

As is often the case, sometimes the solution is simply to think before you post. Is it time for business as usual? What is the safest course of action? Should your brand be speaking up or staying quiet? Asking questions will help you decide if and when your social media should go dark.

And, as our own Futurist in Residence Peter Shankman has pointed out before: “No company ever went broke because they opted to shut up for 24 hours.”

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