Over the past 20 years, government agencies in the United States – especially police, fire, EMS and military – have planned moving tributes recognizing nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives in the horrific tragedy of the September 11, 2001 attack.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, even more government agencies will likely have an agency-wide tribute or memorial planned (whether it be a proclamation, moment of silence, interviews with community leaders, or a more involved way of honoring those who lost their lives and the stories of the heroes who emerged).
This milestone may prompt some agencies to post their very first 9/11 recognition on social media. It could also be the first time for some government communicators who are new to their role to ever communicate about 9/11 on behalf of their agency.
As you consider how to post about 9/11 on social media from your agency’s official profiles, keep this guidance in mind.
Your 9/11 social media post isn’t the time to get support for a public facility, referendum, or another agency initiative unrelated to your tribute.
As a government agency, be extremely wary of inserting yourself into a tragedy through a tenuous connection or using it to position another message, rather, it must be a clear, genuine connection.
Patricia H. serves @TSA in honor of her uncle Luis G. Fernandez who was an @NYPDnews first responder at the World Trade Center:— Homeland Security (@DHSgov) September 8, 2021
"After the attacks, he & many other first responders participated in long hours searching for survivors." #DHSRemembers pic.twitter.com/Mgemz5D3o7
"My uncle was my hero & I felt I needed to keep his memory alive. Once I saw an opening for @TSA, I immediately applied. My 1st official day w/TSA was 10/16/17, exactly 3 years after his passing. It will be 4 years w/the agency this October & I look forward to many more to come."— Homeland Security (@DHSgov) September 8, 2021
While there are great examples of agency posts with strong connections, like the tweet thread from the Department of Homeland Security above, you’ve likely witnessed brands make mistakes — an example is AT&T’s tweet in 2013 that prompted public backlash after using a BlackBerry to portray the 9/11 Tribute in Light. This weak connection between a product — or something like a potentially unclear agency’s message — to a horrific tragedy won’t be well-received. While sometimes it may be a truly honest mistake or the post had good intentions with poor execution, your agency will most likely still experience backlash and lose credibility and trust with the public you serve.
When crafting or editing your message, be sure to ask yourself:
If you don’t confidently answer ‘yes,’ rethink your strategy. Below we have a few post ideas, language suggestions and accounts you might want to re-share from or follow for inspiration.
Remember to always keep in mind the genuine connection while crafting your post. If your agency has plans to recognize the 20-year anniversary, something as simple as capturing visuals of this recognition and sharing that on social media could be the best way of carrying the tribute over to social.
Below are a few post ideas that could be tailored to your community and agency, but please keep in mind the importance of being authentic to your specific agency and the community you serve:
Check out https://t.co/VAmvDsJRlU for ways big and small to participate in #911Day like:— 9/11 Day (@911day) September 7, 2021
🥫 signing up to pack non-perishable meals for local food banks
📖 downloading education resources and lesson plans
👐 making a pledge to do a good deed #ShineALight
Timing is also incredibly important. While Sept. 11 may be used as an educational opportunity for some entities, consider whether it’s more appropriate to post those types of messages another day, such as in this video message shared in May by the TSA:
Today, we recognize Fred Lau, Federal Security Director at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Watch and listen how the events of 9/11 remain a central reason for his service today. #AANHPI— TSA (@TSA) May 10, 2021
**Contents of this video were recorded prior to COVID-19** pic.twitter.com/Q9jMiWxJgQ
Ensure your social media language is empathetic, compassionate and remains respectful to the families’ who lost loved ones and to a nation that’s still healing. Common hashtags used are “#NeverForget” and “#911Day”, and Twitter also activated hashflags of the U.S. flag for #NeverForget, #September11 and #911Anniversary.
Accompanying images should match the tone and message of your language. Here are a few resources where you can find appropriate imagery:
Another approach to paying tribute on social media is sharing from fellow verified accounts, while also being mindful of the overall connection to your agency and community. Here are some accounts you might want to consider sharing from:
Regardless of how your agency decides to observe 9/11 on social media, listen to what’s happening on social media prior to your post going live. Be cognizant of the conversations happening locally, nationally and globally, and conscious of recent events like the tumultuous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
As with any social media post about a difficult or sensitive topic, we suggest posting natively and avoid scheduling out your post to allow time to adjust language or imagery if needed.
Keep listening even after your post to monitor interactions and what’s being said in the comments. Remember: As a government agency, you should be aware of the dangers of deleting comments. If you’re facing negativity, there are times to respond and others to stay silent — make sure to follow any rules of engagement or internal customer service policies your agency has.
While this post has helpful information to guide your messaging, remember to also lean on your socialgov community, fellow coworkers and leadership for additional guidance and advice.
Best communicate with the public you serve by becoming a part of the free Government Social Media network — only available to full/part-time employees of government or educational institutions.
We support the largest network of government social media professionals in the U.S. by guiding government agencies through complex social media issues. Government Social Media helps you successfully communicate with the public you serve, protect your agency and keep public trust while finding your support community.