For larger brands, social media activism is not an option. Your brand must take a stand on important issues for consumers, employees, and followers.
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What is social media activism?
Social media activism is an online form or advocacy for a cause. Hashtag activism is often used interchangeably.
Social media activism includes the promotion of awareness and solidarity through the use hashtags, posts and campaigns.
concrete actions and donations are essential to support social media activism.
If there is no real offline action, hashtags and posting black squares or rainbow flags can come across as lazy and opportunistic. Critics often call these minimal efforts “slacktivism” and “performative allyship”.
Brands need to be cautious: More than three quarters of Americans (76%) believe that social media makes people think they’re making a difference, when in reality they aren’t.
Similar to the previous example, companies who engage in social media activism that is not in line with their past or current actions can face backlash and calls for virtue signaling, greenwashing or rainbow capitalism.
We’re going to explore 10 ways to engage meaningfully on social media. We’ll also provide many examples of brands that have done social media activism right.
It all comes down to this:
Keywords and words are not the same thing. Both can be very powerful. actions speak louder for brands, particularly those with significant market share or resources. Social media activism should be accompanied with real-world action.
Listen to the voices of those who are committed to the cause. Learn from people with a lot of experience in the movement. Be committed to achieving real change.
Ten tips on how to use social media to support a cause authentically:
1. Reassess your social calendar.
Before engaging in social media activism, whether you’re responding immediately to a crisis or embarking on a longer-term campaign of activism and allyship, the first thing you should do is to pause.
Reexamine your social calendar. You might want to save upcoming posts for later if you use a social media scheduling tool. Check your content calendar to make sure it aligns with the stance that you are taking. You’ll want to keep your eyes on the crisis if you’re responding.
Brands should respond to crisis situations, consumers want that. More than 60% of respondents believe that brands should acknowledge crisis moments in their advertising and communications.
The New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Tampa Bay Rays suspended their social media game coverage in the wake of Uvalde’s shooting and instead used their social networks to share information on gun violence.
— May 26, 2022, New York Yankees (@Yankees).
They were all in on it and didn’t hold back.
In 2020, firearms were the leading cause for death among American children and teenagers.
— May 26, 2022, New York Yankees (@Yankees).
Take the time to read beyond the headlines and learn about the current events so you can make a meaningful statement followed by concrete action.
This action component is crucial for gaining support for your activism and not backlash.
Before you return to regular programming, think about how your content and campaigns will resonate in the larger context.
- Profit from your support. Social movements are not marketing opportunities. Customers will point out actions taken by your brand that seem motivated by anything but good faith.
2. Listen to your customers and employees
Emotions can run high during human rights and social justice movements. However, these momentary emotions can cause long-term changes in the way people feel and behave.
Generation Z members say 70% are involved in a political or social cause. They expect brands to join them. Gen Z believes that brands can solve more social problems than governments, with 57% saying so and 62% wanting to work with brands.
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that consumers don’t believe brands are doing enough to promote social change.
Source: Edelman 2022 Trust Barometer
Social listening can help you understand your audience’s feelings. You can express empathy and solidarity with those who are suffering, and rally your audience behind positive sentiments by putting forth strong calls for action.
This could be as simple as asking followers to sign petitions, share messages, or match donations. Sometimes it’s as simple a acknowledging how people feel within the context of social upheaval. Aerie’s ongoing advocacy to mental wellness – in which case, literally giving tools to improve mental health and combat anxiety – is an example of this.
A post shared with Aerie (@aerie).
- Do not ignore emotions or use a police tone. People often have valid reasons to feel what you feel.
3. Be transparent and honest
Before you post anything to support a cause, take a look at your company’s history and culture. This could include examining the diversity of your team, reevaluating non-environmental practices, and assessing the accessibility to your marketing.
Although it can be difficult, it is important to have open conversations within the company about company values and any changes that may be necessary. You’ll have problems with social activism if you aren’t honest.
Recognizing past mistakes is a great way to show your company is serious. Don’t be afraid to admit any criticisms of your current position. Your social activism will sound hollow, or worse, hypocritical, if you don’t do this. This could also lead to people calling you out.
In response to Florida’s “Dont Say Gay” bill, Disney initially remained silent. Instead of making a public statement, it sent an internal email to show support for LGBTQ employees and not making a public statement. This quickly became a problem for Disney, as the hashtag #DisneyDoBetter exploded and employees, creatives and fans shared their concerns about the company’s weak stance and its previous donations to support the bill.
Tl;dr : “We will continue inviting the LGBTQ+ community, to spend their money on sometimes-inclusive material, while we support politicians who work tirelessly to curtail LGBTQ+ Rights.”
As you can see, I am a huge Disney fan. This statement is weak, even I admit it. https://t.co/vcbAdapjr1
— (((Drew Z. Greenberg))) (@DrewZachary) March 7, 2022
Disney was forced to admit its error within a matter of days and issue a lengthy public statement.
Today, our CEO Bob Chapek sent an important message to Disney employees about our support for the LGBTQ+ community: https://t.co/l6jwsIgGHj pic.twitter.com/twxXNBhv2u
— Walt Disney Company (@WaltDisneyCo), March 11, 2022
Brands can hold themselves accountable or be held accountable. Don’t think you have to be perfect to take a stand. More than half of employees believe that CEOs should speak out publicly about racism once the company has set its own racial equity goals and diversity targets, and has concrete plans to achieve them.
- You can hide internal issues and hope that no one notices them. Or, you can hide behind internal communications. Employee concerns that are not addressed in internal emails can quickly become public.
- Don’t be afraid to be truthful Honesty is appreciated by customers. Edelman found that only 18% of employees trust the head of DEI of their company to be open about racism within the company. How can your customers trust you if your employees don’t trust you?
4. Be human
Humanize your communication efforts. Inauthentic behavior can be seen by people.
Statements for companies can look a bit stale if they are filled with overused phrases or written in a carefully calibrated way. (Thoughts, prayers anyone? Be thoughtful in what you say, but don’t use corporate jargon or canned content. Be real.
Edelman found that 81% respondents to the 2022 Trust Barometer expected CEOs to be visible when discussing work their company did to benefit society.
Kenneth Frazier, then CEO of Merck, spoke out about voting rights. The company posted his comments to their social media accounts.
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Our Chairman & CEO Kenneth C. Frazier was on @CNBC this morning to discuss Georgia’s restrictive new voting laws. pic.twitter.com/P92KbhN1aL
— Merck (@Merck), March 31, 2021
Yes, this statement has been vetted by lawyers and other corporate messaging professionals. It’s clear and doesn’t hold back. Frazier has proven his ability to bring together business leaders for social action. He has spoken out about his values and how the issues he chooses stand on align with corporate values.
According to him, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation was informed by him that he discussed with the Merck board whether he should present it solely as a personal decision or include mentions of the company when he resigned from President Trump’s Business Council following his remarks about Charlottesville.
He said that he was proud to state that the board unanimously agreed with him that he wanted to speak to the company’s values and not his personal values.
- Do not try to be a spokesman for everyone else. It must come from your company.
- Don’t worry about keywords, hashtags that aren’t relevant, or algorithms. Do the right thing, and not the highest ranking.
5. Be consistent and clear in your stance
If you share a message to support a cause, make sure that there is no room for ambiguity. Do not leave people asking questions or filling the gaps for you.
Ben and Jerry’s is the gold standard for clear brand positioning. They are vocal and consistent in their support for racial justice and social justice.
Consumers want to know your position on important issues before making a purchase. This means that you should be clear in your ads and social media content, as well as on your website. That way, people will click through to learn more or purchase.
- Do it all or none at all. So that you can be consistent in your authenticity and speak to the causes most important to your brand and employees,
6. Please share how you are taking action
People want to know how brands tackle issues beyond social media.
It’s one thing for a message to support Ukraine to be posted. It’s the actions that count. More than 40% of consumers boycotted Russian businesses after the invasion. In March, #BoycottMcDonalds as well as #BoycottCocaCola became popular on social media. The companies ceased Russian operations in March.
@CocaCola refuses to leave Russia – an outrageous and disgusting decision. I will not be contributing to their profits (and I love Costa Coffee), and I encourage others to do the same. #BoycottCocaCola #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/tcEc6J6sR1
— Alison (@senttocoventry), March 4, 2022
Demonstrate that your company is actually doing something. What organizations are you donating to and how much? Are you willing to make regular contributions? How does your brand contribute to the good of the communities it serves? What are your steps towards a more ethical production and supply chain? Be specific. Send receipts.
Dove donated $100,000 to Catalyst to help create more inclusive workplaces, as an example of its #KeepTheGrey campaign.
Age is beautiful. Women should be free to choose their own terms Dove has donated $100,000 to Catalyst, an organization in Canada that supports women in building inclusive workplaces. Go grey with us, turn your profile picture greyscale and #KeepTheGrey pic.twitter.com/SW5X93r4Qj
— Dove Canada (@DoveCanada) August 21, 2022
Fluide, a makeup brand, celebrated Trans Day of Visibility by highlighting trans models and pledging to donate 20% of their sales to Black Trans Femmes for the Arts.
- Don’t make empty promises. Edelman’s 2022 report on business and racial injustice found that more than half of Americans believe that companies are not meeting their promises to deal with racism. It’s better to not make promises if you don’t keep them.
7. Your actions should reflect your company culture
Similar to point 3, practice what you preach. Your workplace should reflect your brand’s commitment to diversity via social media. You should promote environmentalalism by using sustainable practices. It’s not social activism if it doesn’t. It’s either performative allyship, or greenwashing. People notice: Twitter saw a 158% rise in mentions of “greenwashing” this year.
You can ensure that your activism aligns to your culture by choosing causes that are connected to your brand purpose. 55% of consumers believe it’s important that a brand takes action on issues related to its core values, and 46% think brands should talk about social issues directly related their industry.
The ongoing campaign promoted #SexEdForAll by Maude, a sexual wellness brand, is an example.
They partner with the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States to promote inclusive sex education by putting forth real calls to action and donating a portion of the profits from their Sex Ed For All capsule line.
Despite this, your brand purpose might not be directly connected to social causes. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop participating in the conversation.
Responsible corporate culture must be about doing the right things. It will, however, lead to a better bottom line. Diverse businesses are more profitable and make better business decisions.
Nearly two-thirds of consumers, and almost three-quarters for Gen Z, support brands that are based on their values. They will pay more for brands that do good things in the world.
- It takes too long to keep your promises. Your customers are watching and waiting.
8. Plan for both good and bad reactions
Be ready for feedback before your brand takes a position on social media.
Social activism often aims to challenge the status quo. Your position may not be supported by everyone. While some customers may be supportive of your brand, others will be critical. Many will feel emotional. Unfortunately, some commenters might be abusive or hateful.
Brands who took a stand against Roe v. Wade’s overturning received abusive comments on social media.
Benefit did all the right thing on this post by clearly stating their actions, showing how the cause related with their core values, and linking partners who are experts in the field.
However, they still received comments that could be very triggering to their social team, especially for anyone who was affected by their own fertility or abortion experiences.
Expect a flood of messages, and equip your social media managers to handle them. This includes mental health support, especially for those directly affected by the movement you support.
These are the do’s and don’ts.
- Reexamine your social media guidelines and make any necessary updates.
- Define abusive language clearly and how to deal with it.
- Create a plan of action for common statements or frequently asked questions.
- Be human. While you can personalize your responses, you must follow the script.
- Organise relevant training sessions.
- When necessary, apologize for past actions
- You can adapt your strategy to different audiences on different social networks.
- Disappear. Do not lose touch with your audience even if they are angry with you.
- If comments are abusive or harmful, delete them. Do not tolerate hate.
- Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know all the answers.
- Your followers should take responsibility for protecting their fundamental human rights.
- It takes too long to reply. Mentionlytics is a tool that allows you to track messages.
9. Diversify and represent
Diversity should not be something your brand checks on Pride month, Black History Month, and International Women’s Day. Show your support for LGBTQ rights, gender equality and disability rights, as well as anti-racism throughout the year.
Your marketing should be inclusive. Incorporate representation in your social media style guide, and overall content strategy. Source inclusive stock imagery from sites such as TONL, Vice’s Gender Spectrum Collection, Elevate, and Elevate. Diverse models and creatives are available. Keep in mind that not all movements are interconnected.
It is important to listen to people’s voices and not just their faces. Shayla Oulette is not only the first Indigenous global ambassador for Lululemon yoga, but she also serves on the Vancouver-based committee for Diversity Equity and Inclusion.
Your platform is open to takeovers. Amplify unique voices. Establish meaningful relationships with a wider range of creators and influencers. As a result, you’ll likely increase your audience and customer base.
- Stereotype. Do not cast people in roles that perpetuate negative stereotypes or bias.
- After highlighting someone, don’t let abusive comments go unchecked. Offer support.
10. Keep at it
The hashtag doesn’t stop trending.
This is an important point to remember. This is not the time to divest from purpose and inclusivity in marketing, it’s actually the time to dive deeper into those commitments– and truly great marketers should be able to both show ROI AND center purpose https://t.co/8w43F57lXO
— God-is Rivera (@GodisRivera), August 3, 2022
Engage in ongoing social activism and learning. Continue to educate your brand and employees, and share useful information with social media users who are following your brand.
You can also champion the cause offline. Non-optical allyship. Find ways to support long-term changes. Become a mentor. Volunteer. Volunteer your time. Keep fighting for equity.
- Brand activism is not something you can do in one go. One supportive post won’t cut it. Be prepared to stay in the digital activism waters for the long-term if you’re going to dive into it.
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The post Social Media Activism in 2020: How to Move Beyond the Hashtag appeared on Social Media Marketing & Management Dashboard.