January 2016: the month mourning went social

You must have been living under a rock for the month of January if you missed the sad loss of some absolute legends in the entertainment world. In a month that (let’s face it) already sucks, we lost greats from the acting world (Alan Rickman) and music world (David Bowie & Glenn Frey) and then yesterday came the devastatingly sad news of one of the passing of one of the finest UK broadcasters there has ever been – Sir Terry Wogan.

What has occurred to me is how public mourning in 2016 is barely recognisable when compared to the endless queues that formed in 1997 to sign a public condolences book after Princess Diana tragically died; some reports suggested up to 200 people visited the book every hour. In 1997, we didn’t have Twitter and Facebook to turn to in times of grief after the news broke on the TV the morning after the tragic events (not Twitter…). In a world without social media, we gathered with those around us; families, friends or colleagues. In January 2016, we gathered with strangers through our social networks to share feelings & memories. Without needing to travel & queue for hours to share emotions in a condolences in a book, 8 million of us tweeted about David Bowie’s death in the first 24 hours alone*.

Despite often being dubbed as ‘anti’ social media, the fast-paced nature of news breaking on sites like Twitter lends itself to being the platform of choice for us to leave tributes. Quite often, people can’t find endless words around the death of people they have long admired, so the 140 character limit never seemed more apt. Some experts believe that the instant ability to share emotions around death is encouraging, arguing that it cuts through British reserve and gives us a platform to say what we feel as soon as we feel it.

Yesterday’s passing, another gone far too early, of Sir Terry Wogan felt like the final straw for many of those who had previously adopted the good old so-called British reserve and Twitter saw a further outpouring of tributes from celebrities and the public. In addition to the words of sorrow and amazingly fond memories, we saw artistic tributes; up-and-coming artist Darren Birdie’s heart-breaking sketch of Pudsey bear with a black eye patch has been re-tweeted over 3.2k times since being posted yesterday morning shortly after the news broke. The artist, whose tribute seemed to perfectly capture the mood of the nation, seemed to be quickly overwhelmed with requests from the media to use the image in their print & online editions. One person’s own, highly personalised and poignant way of sharing their grief quickly became somewhat iconic in marking Sir Terry’s death.

After what shall be known as ‘Croc-Gate’ when the shoe firm, seeming to jump on the back of Bowie’s death was met with an enormous social media backlash, brands have seemed to respectfully refrained from tweeting ‘tributes’. However, Duncan Bannatyne found himself in deep water, being branded as tactless & accused of promoting his health club chains on the back of the entertainer’s death yesterday. After posting a simple RIP Terry Wogan tweet, one user responded with a suggestion that it meant there was all the more reason to stay in shape. Instead of turning a blind eye, Bannatyne retweeted the response with his own appendage stating ‘Very True’. The tweet disappeared fairly soon afterwards, but the damage was done. What I’m sure was a mindless mistake has appeared widely across the media today; also proving that your absent-minded tweet doesn’t need to be on show for very long to get noticed… and screen-grabbed.

Arguably, any form of social media has opened up opportunities to find and converse with like-minded individuals; whether in times of sadness or crisis, or on a day-to-day basis – our lives are so prolifically online now, it only seems natural for us to want to grieve there too. For brands and public figures though, the message seems to remain the same… think… and then think again before you tweet.

*source: Emerald Street
Image credit: Darren Birdie

Victoria Coppin
Digital Account Director

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