There have been few moments that brought as much attention to brands’ social response strategies as the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Even social experts like ourselves learned lessons in social response from Black Lives Matter.
While some brands knocked it out of the park, fumbles were far more common and consumers did not hold back outrage. It’s clear that consumer standards around brands and social stances have risen, and the feedback is through social.
Read on for our take on lessons in social response from Black Lives Matter.
Silence Is No Longer An Option
One of the first missteps that a number of brands made was waiting too long to say something. Many sat back to see what others were going to say or weren’t sure they needed to say anything at all.
Consumers weren’t going to sit back and wait for brands to get it together. One of the main lessons in social response from Black Lives Matter has been that silence will not be tolerated.
In the past, brands have stayed away from taking social stances in fear of alienating segments of potential buyers. No one can forget the Michael Jordan quote “Republicans buy sneakers too,” which he repeatedly stated in 1990 when urged to endorse Harvey Gantt. Times have changed. 30 years later, Jordan was one of the first to pledge a donation to racial equality organizations – to the tune of $100 million.
Millennials and Gen Z assign a higher value to brands involved in activism and social justice. They believe more than any other generation that brands have a responsibility to make the world a better place. As they move into the role of key decisionmakers, brands are learning they have to listen.
Community Managers were left fielding comments from disappointed consumers in response to silence. Many expressed anger and demanded action, threatening to take their dollars elsewhere. Meanwhile, companies that were quick to act received positive engagement, praise, and even better, increased consumer loyalty.
Words Are Not Enough
While some brands acted in what would classify as a timely manner, their words rang hollow. That’s another thing about Millennials and Gen Z, they will call you out.
Amazon received an abundance of negative feedback after their statement, with consumers and justice organizations calling out their poor working conditions, selling of controversial surveillance technology, and more.
Some brands chose to keep their messaging vague when addressing the movement, writing about equality but not specifically calling out Black Lives Matter. This caused another wave of activity for Community Managers. Many consumers even interpreted the avoidance of using “Black Lives Matter” as supporting “All Lives Matter.”
A lot of brands were surprised by this backlash. They didn’t intend for their statements to backfire. But when it comes to lessons in social response from Black Live Matter, it’s clear that consumers don’t care about intention. They want action.
Enter Pull Up For Change. This Instagram account was created on June 3 and asked all companies who had released a statement to publicly release within 72hrs the number of black employees in their organizations at the corporate level. They also asked for the number of black people in leadership roles, stating, “You all have statements and policies about being equal opportunity employers, so show us the proof! PULL UP or SHUT UP!”
Brands from Sephora to Revlon and more shared their diversity data, some even including plans to improve it. The account has become a point place for anyone interested in diversity numbers for corporations from Amazon to Microsoft.
Own Up To Missteps
Another one of the lessons in social response from Black Lives Matter was the call for brands to own their mistakes. Many individuals found themselves questioning their own actions and beliefs throughout the last several weeks. We are all human, and we make mistakes. It’s the examination and admittance of those mistakes that are important to today’s consumers.
Brands that put out vague statements went back and created follow-up posts where they were more specific. Some even admitted to not knowing the right thing to say but invited an open dialogue with consumers.
It’s impossible to make everyone happy, but transparency is valued and honesty is better than avoidance. The important thing is that you do right by your values and your consumers.
Preparation Is Needed For Next Time
This will not be the last time that brands are asked to break their silence over a social stance. If you take away any lessons in social response from Black Lives Matter, it should be that you need to be prepared.
Examine other social movements (i.e. climate change) and take time to determine where your brand stands. What do you value? What is important to you? Do you have a corporate social responsibility program? If not, should you create one?
Time is of the essence when there is a call to action. Being firm in your brand’s values and having an idea of what you’d like to communicate to customers will set you up to be a strong example when the next movement comes and will save your team a lot of strife.
Need inspiration when coming up with your plan for the next social movement? Check out Ad Age’s catalog of brand responses to racial inequality.
Make It Count
Whatever you do, don’t ignore the lessons in social response from Black Lives Matter. Learn from brands who fumbled, and take notes from those who soared. Make sure your entire team is clear on your value stance and be ready to speak when called upon. With careful preparation, you could be the next great example of what it means to take action and be part of the change.
Leah K. Williams
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