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How to Use Social Media on September 11

The 9/11 anniversary is a tricky time to use social media. With well-funded corporate marketers prone to stumbling on social media on the 9/11 anniversary, you might think it’s a day best avoided. But, things are different when it comes to government agency communications. Because of their public service mandate, most agencies should not stay silent on September 11.

There are many ways government agencies can use social media on 9/11 to speak to people in a thoughtful way that will be appreciated. By sharing appropriate messages on September 11, your agency can reach out to and connect with those you serve, and even humanize your agency.

Are you unsure of how to communicate via social media on 9/11? Here are ways government agencies can do it right, including examples from the past few years.

First, what not to do

September 11 is not the time for politics, so don’t cram your agency’s agenda into a 9/11 message. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about the people lost in New York City, at the Pentagon, on the hijacked flights, and in the first responder crews. It’s about letting people know that their loved ones who were lost are not forgotten. It’s about helping a nation that is still healing.

Remembrance

It’s fine to share your normal agency communications on September 11. You also can—and probably should—acknowledge this nationally significant day. If you’re not comfortable crafting your own message of remembrance, you can reshare a message posted by another agency. The White House is a reliable source for thoughtful national messages.

The simplest messages are often the most powerful.  When offering thoughts of remembrance, be authentic and sensitive. Though it’s a suitably patriotic symbol, an American flag image could be about any American event. Instead, choose an image that specifically conveys the reflective mood of this day. Your message will then be something people can connect with emotionally, and even help them honor the memories of those lost.

9/11 Day of Service events

September 11 is officially a national day of service in tribute to the victims of the terror attack. Not only can your agency volunteer on the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, it can use its social media reach to encourage more people to serve.

People want to volunteer on 9/11, they just may not know how. In fact, one quarter of adult Americans said they would have participated in the 9/11 Day of Service if only they’d been asked. So, use social media to invite your followers to volunteer and help them find events in their community.

Then, when the 9/11 National Day of Service rolls around, keep the inspiration going by sharing photos and videos from your agency’s service event. Feature the real people—that is, your team and other local volunteers—who are making a difference in your community.

Honor your own

All types of government agencies joined the response and recovery on September 11. By thanking your agency’s employees for stepping up in a time of national crisis, you help people better understand the important work your agency does and the role your employees play in disaster response. These messages can also instill your current employees with a sense of purpose as they face tomorrow’s challenges.

Several government agencies lost people during the attacks on September 11, 2001. Through the reach of social media, you can give people a way honor and mourn those who gave their life to public service.

Honor your community’s first responders

The September 11 anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate the fire fighters, law enforcement, and EMT personnel in your local community. Share their stories through social media and you can help people in your community express their gratitude to first responders.

For example, each year, first responders around the country take part in 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb events. They ascend hundreds of flights of stairs in remembrance of the first responders who died on 9/11 and to raise money for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. During the stair climbs, agencies use social media to post photos, videos, and commemorative statements. By sharing these events on social media, fire departments in the SacramentoLos Angeles, Charlotte, and elsewhere have encouraged hundreds and even thousands of people to give their support to the first responders who live in their community.

Citizen education

September 11 can be an opportunity to help people better understand issues related to national security, airport and border policies, disaster response, and military service, or simply learn more about work your agency is involved with related to 9/11.

However, keep in mind that this day is not about you. For example, although the U.S. Department of Labor’s #VetsLikeHer campaign used 9/11 as a measure of time, the post was importantly not shared on September 11. That’s because an agency’s agenda is nowhere near as important as respectfully honoring the 9/11 anniversary. It was a message correctly communicated at another time of year.

Additional resources

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and trainer. Find her on Twitter at @girardinl. Points of Light, one of the 911 Day partners, is one of my clients.

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