As content marketers, we always keep one ear to the ground to see what opportunities may come along that fit with our needs.

Recently when social media channels exploded with a hashtag that originated on Instagram and a small blog, a profound question of ethics began to play out. The initial source of the hashtag was a blogger posting to Instagram about her best friend’s young child who was killed in an auto/pedestrian accident.

I’d like to note that out of respect for the family and their private grieving process, I’ve made the decision not to include the hashtag or any actual pictures generated by or associated with it. As an inbound marketing company, we’d never want our critical look at this situation to be something the parents stumble across if looking for consolation.

Content Marketing with Sensitive Material

Grief Bandwagoning and Hashtag Opportunist?

The hashtag in question was fueled by purposeful and deliberate marketing to “mommy bloggers” and social media influencers. The tactic worked. Virality is something we work to manage expectations on with clients. The likelihood of anything going viral is slim to none.

Regardless what tactics were used to make this go viral, the important question to be considered is do you want to be associated with something that could be found questionable? A lot of times we deal with clients that may serve a niche that deals with sensitive matters. Matters you wouldn’t necessarily want to wave as content victory banners. Yet there is an audience, and our job as marketers is to find and identify that audience and provide appropriate and compelling content.

Looking at the Impressions of this hashtag  during a 10 day time period in May, shows that in this case, 14,188,669 people saw this hashtag across all major social channels. Of that number 10,307,857 were unique users, which is remarkable. The actual reach of this hashtag in 10 short days captured 10 million plus unique users.


One of the interesting things about the reach of this effort was that participating in it had no real value-add or benefit to the user.  It was grassroots support of a family that lost a child. At least that is what an optimist could say. And that was certainly true until anyone selling a product got involved.

 Monetizing A Tragedy

Legitimate questions of ethics were raised when this became a viral item. There were some online sellers including the hashtag with posts about their products on Instagram, Etsy, Twitter and Facebook.  Even on Pinterest, at least one shop was capitalizing on the situation for gain. The Pin by the way, seemed to be a bait and switch tactic. Which is all kinds of eww.

Back on Instagram you could find examples like this one (the actual names have been changed): “I didn’t know them, but I feel sad… hug your loved ones while wearing @ XYZ pjs #Hashtag.”

I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Inflow is not the kind of company that would promote attaching your content marketing to a hashtag associated with the untimely passing of a child. Especially, in such an asinine fashion.


Foresight with Content Marketing

When weighing the involvement of sensitive material in a content marketing campaign you must ask yourself if the end result will be getting labeled as someone who insert themselves into someone else’s pain and tragedy for personal/ business recognition/ gain and self-aggrandizement. Without carefully weighing involvement in a situation like this, you may find that there is such a thing as bad publicity. Moreover, you may find that you’ve broken trust with your brand evangelists and enthusiasts. In the end losing the trust of those who sing your praises can be more detrimental than some random Google penalty.


Content Permissions and Legal Questions

There was a fair amount of image co-opting in this particular situation to use on clothing to sell with a percentage of proceeds supposedly going to the family. The images were pulled from the mother’s Instagram account by a variety of companies and crafters. No, really. That actually happened. Who knows if there was an explicit agreement between the family and these companies. The grey area of Internet image use and legalities behind it came into focus. Companies were driving traffic from their Instagram profiles to their sites raising brand awareness and in many cases converting sales with an image they likely didn’t originate or create. The consensus around the web seemed to be that it was wrong, but what was anyone going to do about it.



As content marketers we have to be cautious with sensitive material. The intersection of social media and content can be a tricky one. Condemnation is more than earned by those that find or seek out situations for grief bandwagoning. The backlash for using a tragic situation for one’s own financial gain is well earned and deserved.

Where is the line here? It can make people more than uncomfortable for a t-shirt to be created with an image grabbed for a grieving mother’s Instagram account with a “promise” that a sliver of proceeds will someday make it to the parents who the company has no prior relationship with. But what about a compelling piece on helping grieving parents? Or a local round-up of support groups and other resources for parents that have lost a child?

Should you simply think about your client’s long-term best interests and refrain from participating in a situation like this at all?

I think this is an open discussion, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.