To quote a wise man (Albus Dumbledore, of course!): “Dark times lie ahead of us, and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
In this climate, should a brand choose easy or right or both?
This has been a year of many things. For social media, 2017 has been the year when the rumors of Twitter’s death have been greatly exaggerated. I would’ve been at the front of the line to prognosticate Twitter's demise in January, because when you work in social media for a while, sometimes you get jaded and forget the power it holds. Power for good and power for bad, but power nonetheless.
Why? Because we forget it’s about the power of the people who use it, and as brands, influencers and yes, even governments, we dismiss it at our own risk.
If you’ve forgotten that power, or ever doubted it, we can look at examples from Aug. 16 alone to find evidence from the Twitter #Resistance movement, or the #Twisistance as they often refer to themselves.
- POTUS tweeted on the morning of Aug. 16 about Amazon and $5.7 billion was wiped off of Amazon's stock value. But the pendulum swung again and brought Amazon back to regain and gain against those losses just after lunch.
- In the vacuum created by White House silence around the events in Charlottesville, (disclosure: I’m a UVA alumna), President Obama’s tweet—which didn't even reference the specific event—surpassed social media powerhouses Ellen DeGeneres and Ariana Grande to become the most-liked tweet ever. At the time of this writing, it was also the third-most-retweeted (though I’m betting that record is shattered as well.)
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..." pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
- Due mostly to social media/Twitter pressure, brands began dropping from the president’s Manufacturing Council so quickly that POTUS tweeted at 10:14 a.m. that it had been disbanded.
Here’s what brands can begin to think about when determining how/if they should take a stance:
Be you. Whoever that is, be authentic about it. If you’re taking a stand for the sake of marketing, people will find you out. Look at GE and the stand they took by staying on the Manufacturing Council; they were authentic about the reason they wanted a seat at the table. It didn’t make them popular, but they were an authentic part of the conversation.
Be first, or be last. This is why crisis plans are needed so badly. If you don’t respond quickly, your brand could take a hit anyway. Even a statement like “we’re not sure what we’re doing yet” can buy you some time if you respond quickly enough.
Storytelling for the win. Broad generalities don’t win Twitter wars. Relatable responses, faces with names, humanizing the inhuman—these are the ways to win Twitter hearts and minds. One girl who died during a polarizing news event became the rallying cry for change in the world. Pictures of people who fought in World War II along with their names and contributions became a trending topic. And—perhaps dearest to my heart—#UVALoveLetters became a way to give advice for healing and starting again. It’s the story that sways perception, not the push of a PR machine. The best Twitter accounts and the best Tweets show that social media is about a conversation, not about pushing the message you want to push.
You can’t control the narrative. By trying to silence critics, this administration created an entirely new voice on Twitter. It’s the same for brands and businesses. The minute you try to remove a bad review, or don’t respond to a genuine concern out of fear for your PR machine, you allow these voices to become louder than your own, taking on a life of their own. You’re far better off by responding authentically and admitting mistakes than trying to PR your way out of something. Otherwise, what’s going to stop the next alt-Uber, alt-Google, or alt-your-business?
Carmen Collins is the social media lead on Cisco’s Talent Brand team, and was recently named the 2016 Social Media Professional of the Year by PR News. Over her career, she has helped several Fortune 500 companies engage with their audience through great content and building relationships.
Follow Carmen: @CShirkeyCollins