The tragedy in Boston on Monday was a horrific and saddening event. It also served a lesson in digital marketing.

Monday afternoon was a challenge for marketers in the digital space. The ability to schedule social media posts and emails is a wonderful asset to marketers, and is a part of our distributed marketing software. The scheduling of social media posts and emails has become a common practice, and during the vast majority of times, it helps brands drive top of mind awareness and brand engagement. However, during a tragic event when lives are lost due to a coordinated act of violence, the generally agreed upon course of action for brands is to cease posting and emailing for a time and to acknowledge the larger event. During a time of tragedy, there’s a saying that is often uttered, and it is “This really puts things into perspective.” There’s a reason why that phrase exists, and that’s because it is true.

This was not the first major tragedy of the social media era. The way in which information is disseminated has changed so much in such a short time. In some ways, 9/11 doesn’t seem that long ago, but in terms of the practice of digital marketing, it is ancient history. When 9/11 happened, social media marketing as a component of the marketing mix hadn’t really come to fruition. We were still 2 and a half years away from the launch of MySpace and Facebook and 4+ years before Twitter. YouTube wasn’t around. Email was an existing channel back then and had viability as a marketing tool.

Some organizations, particularly SMBs with fewer resources to attend to breaking news stories, may find themselves surprised by a breaking event such as this. There may be inadvertent branding social media posts that go out in the wake of the event, but if that happens, the best course of action to cease social media posting and immediately acknowledge the tragedy. Email doesn’t quite move as fast as social media in certain contexts but if an email campaign happens to go out right as a tragedy breaks, subsequent email marketing efforts should acknowledge the action and the tragedy.

The learning curve for digital marketing can be steep even for the best marketers. A good idea for organizations of all sizes to formally prepare for something like this. This is a similar approach to what I suggested when discussing brand crisis reactions. Preparation is a key to success in many facets of life, including digital marketing. There are times where it is appropriate to step back for a moment, and Monday’s events would certainly fit that description.