If you are in a restaurant and overhear strangers at another table talking about a family tragedy, do you go over and offer your condolences? Not likely... since you don’t know them, it’s probably not appropriate to weigh in on their troubles.
It’s much the same with brands. There’s no need to speak up on every issue in the news. Overused comments like, "our thoughts and prayers are with you," can come off sounding insincere. And you don’t ever want to self-promote through tragedy — like Kenneth Cole’s grand PR fail or SpaghettiOs’ ill-advised observance of Pearl Harbor... featuring its mascot.
Do you have a connection to the incident — in the same town, your employees are affected, etc.? Using the Boston Marathon bombing as an example, while some soft drink and shoe brands were spouting platitudes — and a foodie site tried to be clever — Boston-based John Hancock insurance donated $1 million to the victims’ fund.
What should you do? It’s okay to not say anything. Stop any scheduled posts, and review all future outreach to catch anything that might be seen as insensitive. If you want to speak out, be sure you know your target audience and what will resonate with them. Be genuine so you’re not seen to be going for a shameless plug.