Auto Tweets and Tragedy

Having spent most of my life growing up just north of Boston this tragedy has affected me on a personal level. I can’t imagine what the victims and their families are going through. I will not pretend to do so. I was lucky to not know anyone who was hurt but will continue to keep the people of my hometown in my thoughts and prayers.

Auto Tweets

Yesterday while news of the tragedy unfolded my twitter account was sending out auto tweets of great content I had found the day before. Did I spend any time at all rushing to shut off all my scheduled updates on all of my social media platforms as to not offend anyone? No, I did not. I spent that time calling friends and family and giving extra hugs and kisses to my daughter. If I was on social media it is was to search for any updates on the tragedy.

Yesterday Guy Kawasaki was blasted for sending out his normal stream of  auto tweets. Whether intentional or not that is his brand and his choice to do so. Social media is a global form of communication. If we were to not conduct business whenever there was a tragedy in the world we would never be conducting business. Some people choose to conduct their business differently when they or their audience have been affected by tragedy but once again that is their choice.

Guy Kawasaki Tweet

Did the commercials on our televisions stop yesterday? Did the ads on disappear? Did your favorite radio host stop mentioning that local hardware store? Why do we give brands a pass on these other platforms? Is it because social media is suppose to be different?

While I don’t agree with his response of “Loving how people with less than 1,500 followers are telling me how to tweet…” I do agree that it is his choice to tweet what he likes. It’s his business.

Let’s not be so quick to judge someone on social media and lose sight of the big picture of the people who were really affected by this tragedy yesterday.


DJ Thistle

DJ Thistle

Co-Founder at SteamFeed
D.J. Thistle is a co-founder of SteamFeed, a blog that focuses on the latest trends in social media, technology, and marketing. His passion in technology is only rivaled by his desire to connect with others through social media. He has been a featured speaker multiple times on how to get started in social media at various wine industry events. He has spent the last 9 years teaching in public and private schools in Massachusetts and California. He is happily married and enjoys every moment of raising his beautiful daughter.
DJ Thistle
DJ Thistle


  1. says

    I agree completely that it is our choice on how we handle automated posts or any other type of social media advertisement at any time. What I choose to do has no bearing on what others may choose. However, I also believe that we must be ready to face the fallout of our choices. It is not surprising that some took objection to the choice Mr. Kawasaki made or his reaction post (which is the one I have the most problem with). That is their choice. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful article!

    • says

      Kim, thanks for taking the time to comment. I completely agree with you. If you choose not to stop your automated posts and your audience takes offense to it then it is you who will have to deal with the fallout. I'm saying that others shouldn't be getting involved to just get involved and stir up trouble. Let's focus on what's important here.

  2. says

    I agree, DJ that the world doesn't stop when tragedy erupts, although that's probably what the purveys of these horrendous actions would like.

    And there more important things than paying attention to your social media dashboard such as reaching out to loved ones as you say.

    I would however, as a brand, skim over my scheduled tweets and make sure there is nothing that may have seemed trivial or even funny at the time, that would seem utterly tasteless give the circumstances. My thoughts go out to your family and friends and evryone affected. Is there anyone not?

    • says

      Thanks Ray. I appreciate the kind words and thoughts to my family. Other than shocked we're pretty good.

      I agree that each brand has a choice to make, and I believe most brands would choose to stop all automation of tweets that may be taken as tasteless.

      With that said I've seen some pretty mean things said about people on Facebook and Twitter who either posted something without knowing what was going on or had an auto post scheduled or just conducted business as usual. I just don't believe that there is room for that type of cruel behavior during a time like this. If you don't like that someone is posting during a tragedy then unfriend or unfollow that person/brand but don't call them out. Focus on what's important and leave the drama for another day.

      • says

        Totally agree. I've seen those posts too. What good comes out of being so negative, especially at a time like this?

        This is social media. Most people in the world don't give a crap about it. Those that do should have better things to do than call people out on what is essentially a technical issue.

        They live in a small, small world.

  3. says

    JD, I made the choice to stop mine and my client feeds out of respect. We had a lot of questions about what to do or say and we decided to encourage and comfort as we could. We did a post about best practice for your brand in times of tragedy. It's up to each brand how they handle what happened. I think each brand has to decide what's best for them. I really doubt friends and family of the victims were worried about what was on social media but I could be wrong. What I did not want was something to be misunderstood. There is always that. ;)

    • says

      Elizabeth, I think that was a wise decision on your part. You need to do what you feel is right for your brand and your client's brands. I think most people should err on the side of caution.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. :)

  4. ideagirlmedia says


    I agree. Advertisements run and business does not stop on other media.

    Social media is still forming rules, and the intentions, starting out, were for it to be "different." Can people choose to show respect in their own way. Yes. In other ways as well.

    Social media does have different facets, however. It is more personally controlled. So, for me, I think it is respectful to gear things back. Save the channel for important bytes not to compromise crucial communication.

    There are also hashtags geared toward conversation. Guy does not appear to have done this, but I actually found a Boston area business tweeting the #bostonmarathon hashtag with their sales links. Their business has nothing to do with athletics or the marathon.

    When I questioned them about it, I did receive a tweet back today letting me know that their tweets were automated, they were in the city helping people, and could not get to their tools due to no cell service. Which, that does make sense – They could not stop the auto-tweets. BUT…

    …That still does not excuse high-hacking and spamming a hashtag.

    While platforms may differ, business ethics should still apply.

    Just my 2 cents.


  5. says

    Thanks Keri.

    "I actually found a Boston area business tweeting the #bostonmarathon hashtag with their sales links. Their business has nothing to do with athletics or the marathon. " <—- When I first read this I felt outraged… then I read the rest of your comment and it all made sense. This is a perfect example of a business not intending to do harm, especially a small business with limited staff, but still probably came across as jerks to a lot of people. This brand is going to have to do some damage control for sure but that's the chance they took with automated tweets. I just hope their audience realizes that social media is human and humans make mistakes.

  6. says

    I suppose this is because social media should be personal but I agree that it's a bit of an overreaction that he's getting flak for going on his usual business. Be that as it may, I don't think him tweeting about what happened in Boston would be of any more help than if he did not.

  7. Jennifer Olney says

    DJ – I wrote about the autotweets and hijacking of hashtags on my blog today. Brands and individuals need to monitor their messages. Social media is a platform – and supposedly not just a broadcast channel. It was apparent that some of the text with brands was inappropriate and in light of these events, you need to keep an eye on what you are sending out. Guy was out of line in his response to the gentleman who called him out. I'm not surprised by Guy's reaction at all, but I'm disappointed that he couldn't respond to the criticism without lashing out at the individual. It appears, IMO, he doesn't walk his talk and that's unfortunate.

    • says

      Jennifer, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I read your article:… and I do agree that brands should have a plan in place when a tragedy strikes that affects them or their audience. However, I don't think they need to stop posting or only posting about the tragedy as a sign of respect. There are tragedies around the world happening all the time. Which tragedies should brands stop posting for? We don't give this same type of criticism to television ads in between the breaking news and we shouldn't do the same to brands using social media. It's their choice. If they choose to post something that's insensitive and their audience takes offense to it then they'll need to live with the consequences. I just don't like it when other random people, who are not part of their audience, start calling them out for tweeting or posting.

      Also, I completely agree that Guy handled it poorly. But once again, we're all human. We make mistakes.

  8. says

    As always it depends on your audience and the nature of the updates. I kept sharing my scheduled content but I did pause certain ads for clients to avoid hurting anyone's' feelings.

    Example: We are in the midst of an election campaign (far, far away from Boston) and we pulled Facebook sponsored stories like images of "Keep calm and vote _____" With the history of the original it would have been inappropriate.

    As usual things are not black and white and one answer rarely fits all

    • says

      Fritjof, I think that was smart of you to pull that Facebook sponsored story. You know your audience best and it sounds like it was the right move.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

  9. says

    Once I heard about the tradgedy we were glued to our tv and I pulled up my "News" list I have set up on twitter. I might have had a prescheduled tweet go out about a giveaway going on on my website during that time, but i honestly wasn't thinking of it. I was checking facebook to make sure 2 of my friends who live in boston were ok (which they thankfully were).

    I think in times of evil, brands and indiviuals might want to check their scheduled posts and delete or edit the ones that might be viewed as distasteful, but like others have said; 1) People were so worried they had more important things to do, and 2) Commercials still ran on tv, there were still businesses to run.

  10. says

    I really have to agree with this post.

    This was a HUGE shock to Boston, America and the World. People deal with shock differently. There is no right way or no wrong way to deal with shock. Some people felt that by turning off their auto-posts was a sign or respect, to show that this mattered. That is not to say those who didn't turn their auto-posts off, like Guy were in the wrong. I can see why Guy was irritated by being told what to do. It's like being told how to grieve when the only person who knows what is best for you is you. Everyone has a choice and it is up to each person to make the choice that suits them – not for everyone else to dictate how they should and shouldn't behave.
    However, I think what really annoyed a lot of people was the fact he was putting down the little guys who fill his pockets- not very 'enchanting.' It was a bit like a humble brag and it came across as very rude whether it was intended or otherwise.

    I guess another perspective is that a lot of businesses spent their day talking about how upset they were about this tragedy. I think everyone was upset and it is right to offer thoughts and prayers to those affected but spending the day posting about it, writing blog posts for it or worse having promoted posts that have 'thinking of Boston' with a 'like my page' underneath can be regarded as disrespectful too. It's not about the business, it's about the families who really do have something to be sad about and the people there who witnessed this horrific incident.

    Keri makes some good points though, Social Media is still forming rules and can't really be categorised alongside the traditional forms of Marketing. There is an issue of business ethics and social responsibility but once again, it's up to that person or that business to decide what is deemed appropriate.

  11. says

    This post caught my attention because I wrote one the same day about suspending automated tweets in the face of tragedy. Nevertheless, I agree with you that business have the right to say whatever they want. I also think it's a great point that the first instinct of normal people is probably not going to be to rush to cancel the day's tweets.

    Twitter is very different from other forms of media, though … and that's why some people react so strongly to automated tweets in the face of tragedy. I blogged about it today with a shout-out to your thoughtful post. Thanks for giving me a reason to explain why I think Twitter is so unique.

  12. says

    Yeah, I actually got a comment on a Facebook post I posted saying that it wasn't important in the time of national tragedy and we should leave the communication lines open for more important things. I told the person who I didn't know that well, that telling people how to grieve is a bad idea. Having had tough things in my own life and loss, I told her that some people close down, while others need to feel normal while they deal with it. Either way, I don't think the billions of tweets are hindered by someone posting a link to Grumpy cat.

    If this is really the case then when a woman is raped ever 4 seconds everyone should shut up and stop posting. People die every second in this world of billions. If a person chooses to tweet about Boston or not tweet, or tweet to a friend that is their business and doesn't mean they aren't concerned. We don't need Tweet police because it is usually done out of ignorance anyway. They don't know if that person tweeted earlier about the tragedy and why is one tragedy and loss of life greater that others. Did people stop tweeting when my wife lost our twins, or when a my friend's son died, or when someone's wife or father died….No. Life rolled on as it always does. I am very sad for those who were hurt and pray for them.

    • says

      Wow Ross, thanks for not only commenting but being so candid. Just like you and your wife, so sorry about that, people go through tragedy all the time.

      You make a lot of great points that I wish I had thought of when I posted this. :) The amazing thing about social media is the freedom of speech. With that comes the freedom of unfollow, unfriend, uncircle, or block. We certainly do not need social media police.

  13. says

    Hello DJ,

    Like you, I don't think business should stop business. They should acknowledge what is happening in the most sincere and respectful way and then move on. Because at the end of the day, if they were to stop whatever they are doing every time a tragedy hits the world, they would be bankrupt in no time.

    Let's not forget that 34 people died in a bomb raid in Somalia on the same day as the Boston bombings. No one talked about it. This, in itself, is very telling and annoys me much more than what Guy Kawasaki did.

    Great article!

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