Dear companies, 9/11 is not a social media marketing moment

Tying a marketing message to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is not innovative or smart. And yet, every year companies line up to issue these thinly veiled ads. Here are some of the worst offenders.

Proper timing is a key component to successful social media marketing. It's why retailers start tweeting about back-to-school sales in August and not December.

There is one exception to the rule: tragedy. That's when the financial upside of perfect timing is eclipsed by the downside of poor taste and exploitation. Tying a marketing message to the anniversary of any tragedy such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is not innovative or smart. It's not an opportunity for customer engagement or branding.

It is an opportunity to embitter existing customers and kill sales.

And yet every year, companies clamor to issue tributes, most of which are thinly veiled advertisements. The problem has worsened with the rise of social media marketing. Company execs, once hamstrung by the slow ad approval process in newspapers, can now barf out tacky, misguided 9/11 tribute tweets within seconds.

This year, AT&T took on a lot of the abuse after tweeting the message "never forget" alongside a photo of a photo on a mobile phone.

The beauty of social media is that its nimbleness goes both ways. The reaction was swift and the company issued an apology (sort of) within a few hours.

The apology read: "We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by 9/11 tragedy."

The mobile networking company's 9/11 tribute tweet—misguided as it was—seems minor compared to some of the Sept.11-themed ads appearing on social networks, in newspapers and in one case, in the lobby of a hotel.

Just two and a half hours after someone posted a photo on Twitter of a sign at a Marriott Hotel reading "In remembrance of those we lost on 9/11 the hotel will provide complimentary coffee and mini muffins from 8:45 to 9:15 a.m." the hotel chain had issued a statement of apology.

The most egregious ones appear to come from smaller companies with a lower social media profile. Jon Hendren, a California-based writer, retweeted a number of the offending "tributes."

Quite possibly the worst one is from Genco Peptides, a company that issued a discount based on the number of people who died (the 2,977 victims and the 19 hijackers) in the terrorist attacks.

And there are plenty more tribute ads on Twitter, offering 9/11-inspired discounts on everything from tanning and golf memberships to hunting supplies, protein supplements and glow shirts.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com