Brands Watch #BringBackOurGirls From the Sidelines

Image: Associated Press

Image: Associated Press

The abduction of nearly 300 girls by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria has created a worldwide outcry for their release that has taken the form of demonstrations and a massive Twitter campaign. The U.S. government is burning up diplomatic channels to get the girls freed. News media outlets, bloggers and some celebrities have joined the Twitter campaign; even First Lady Michelle Obama is taking part.  But where are brands in this discussion?

If you take a look at #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter, brands—apart from news media organizations—are notably absent from conversation. Why? What harm can there be in sharing a hashtag and calling for the release of girls who have been kidnapped by a bunch of thugs who don’t believe women should be educated and who regard children as a commodity to be sold? Apparently, brands believe plenty of harm can come their way if they mishandle this issue. The PR takeaway when it comes to human rights issues an social media comes down to this: proceed with extreme caution.

Supporting human rights issues is certainly a good thing for people to do on an individual basis, but for brands there can be pitfalls. If a major consumer brand gets behind a popular or well-known human rights campaign, it runs the risk of being accused of jumping on the bandwagon for selfish reasons—to drum up sales or improve the company’s own public image.

Regarding #BringBackOurGirls specifically, some international brands may be avoiding getting involved in the campaign for fear of exposing investments in countries where human trafficking is a major issue. Brands in this compromising position run the risk of being labeled hypocritical, tarnishing their public image at the point when they may have hoped to improve it.

It may not be enough to sit quietly by while the situation unfolds, either. Brands are subject to pressure from activist shareholders, board members, employees and customers to take a stand on this and other human rights issues. If a company doesn't say anything, it can be maligned for its silence as callous and uncaring.

In the wake of continual missteps by organizations on social media, brands are treading carefully with the #BringBackOur Girls hashtag and perhaps thinking first, before acting, so they don't put themselves in positions where they have to defend themselves.

Follow Richard Brownell: @RickBrownell

Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments


About Richard Brownell

Richard Brownell is Content Manager, PR Events at PR News. He has several years' experience in developing and producing online events. Richard is a published author with several titles for young audiences to his credit. He has also written political commentary for several popular websites and his stage plays have been produced in New York and other major cities.

Deals of the Week

Get $150 Off PR News' Google Conference


Join us on February 11, 2015, for PR News’ essential Google Conference at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, and learn how to take advantage of everything Google has to offer communicators.

Use code “150off” at checkout.

Get $50 off PR News' Media Relations Guidebook


This 8-chapter resource contains practical implications for some of the most innovative developments in media relations, including the technologies, methodologies and mannerisms that determine the ecosystem in which PR pros practice this essential part of their craft.

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription

Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.