This past year ushered in a collective reckoning on racial violence and systemic injustice across our society. And for the first time, we saw major brands and global corporations revoking their vows of silence to take a stand for the communities they support and serve. With that, a new standard of accountability has grown for brands, one that allows space to talk about current social issues, and become more engaged with audiences on a human level.
But, where do you start? How do you determine which events warrant a response from your brand? And, what kind of response is appropriate? First, breathe. Then remember that what matters most – whether you decide to speak out, hold space, or simply go dark on social – is remaining true to the values that define your brand. A bit of thoughtful planning goes a long way, and we're here to guide you through the process to ensure your brand is poised and properly equipped to navigate any critical dialogue with confidence, candor, and authenticity. Let’s get started.
Prior to 2020’s outbreak of racial and social unrest, a term was introduced into the marketing world known as "woke washing." As Harvard Business Review defines, woke washing is the act of “appropriating the language of social activism into marketing materials,” without actually doing the work to change the internal culture of the brand or company.
This practice has only become more prevalent in recent years, with brands jumping to vocalize support of the cultural and identity groups tied to the latest current events without much thought or nuance. Amid the protests following George Floyd’s murder, brands raced to respond and voice their support for Black Lives Matter, each unwittingly posting near-identical statements, black squares, or minimal graphics. This action became so common across the industry, it sparked a viral meme.
Being accused of performative activism can render a striking blow to a brand’s credibility, and it can seem daunting when first considering if your brand voice has the range to speak on topics you’ve only ever discussed outside of the office. But while it’s certainly a challenging balance to strike, rest assured you’re not alone in this feeling. There’s room for grace when your intentions are in the right place. Even the biggest brands fall flat sometimes – remember Pepsi and Kendall Jenner? Don't be discouraged by missing the mark on your first go-round.
Before developing any social media response plan, it’s important to do a bit of soul-searching as a brand, and unpack what matters to you and your stakeholders. Not just what’s trendy or what you think you’re supposed to do, but really understand the ethos behind your brand to help determine your path towards response.
For more current, consumer product good brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia, the philosophy behind their products extends beyond the business, and into a thriving and vocal civic and community presence. For other brands, it’s simply unnatural and can lead to more harm than good among their target audiences.
However, if you are a brand in a position to voice your support of social causes and it’s simply a matter of fear, take heart with the following. Consumers are progressing towards heightened expectations, looking to their favorite brands to speak out about the social issues that matter to them. In a 2020 article from Barron’s:
Nearly 60% of Americans [said they] want the companies they buy products from to have a position about issues such as racial discrimination and social justice. Roughly 50% of the survey’s respondents said they often do online research to see how a brand reacted to social issues.
It’s a testament to our times, and another indication why crafting a thoughtful social media response plan is more important than ever to effectively manage your brand. At a high level, your plan should aim to forge strategic parameters aimed at mitigating risk, and maintaining brand consistency and integrity amidst growing standards of cultural accountability.
The first place to start when crafting your brand’s social media response plan is taking stock of the current social climate. Perform a situational analysis, which is simply a fancy term for assessing the environment in and around your brand. This step is pivotal for gaining context and insights into the factors that will ultimately influence how you respond.
We caught up with Ty Meza Hughes, Senior Integrated Communications Manager at TEN35 Agency, who leads brands in developing culturally inclusive marketing campaigns. Whether advising global brands or local non-profits, he begins each client discussion with the following approach:
Remaining mindful of these principles at the forefront will ensure your brand is equipped with the right context and foundation to develop a thoughtful social media response plan.
In times of uncertainty, when emotions are high, headlines are heavy, and workloads are endless, trying to remember every strategic parameter in your response plan can be challenging. But if you take anything away from this post, let it be this. When crafting any kind of responsive content, the easiest way to perform a quick “gut-check” is assessing whether it meets the following standard:
Remember: your first responsive campaign, pledge, post, or content won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. Every missed step is an opportunity for your brand to grow, and become stronger in communicating and connecting with your audiences.
Actively working to become more accountable, inclusive, and mindful of how you manage your digital communities is a testament to the quality of your brand's core values, and a sign any response plan you create will have the right objectives in mind.