Any mirage of hope for getting back into a “normal” daily routine in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic was shattered in the past week as ongoing protests and seismic civil unrest shook the United States in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Memorial Day. As attitudes toward racial injustice came to a boiling point, the Black Lives Matter movement is now unignorable across all forms of media and interpersonal conversations – the effects of which are being seen far and wide, by everyone, every day, on the streets, on social media and during all hours of news and radio broadcasts.
As you have undoubtedly seen, people and companies across the country are struggling to navigate today’s social media landscape. Whether you post a message of solidarity or nothing at all in an effort to make space for more BIPOC voices, each of these can be interpreted in various ways, and an audience’s sentiment about a post can flip from gratitude to skepticism to criticism in just a matter of minutes. Every post, caption, story and tweet is being put under a microscope, especially at a time when most Americans are still relegated to stay-at-home orders and looking at their phones for the latest news.
Businesses that were slowly preparing for a return to a slightly more regular schedule are now asking, “What do we do now? Where do we fit in?” And the answer is complicated – there is no one-size-fits-all plan your brand can simply tag its name onto. The principles and passions set forth for a brand in regards to humanitarian issues such as today’s has either been engrained in your company from its inception or not; now is certainly not the time to make grand gestures for the sake of appearances – your followers will see right through any pandering.
One thing is absolutely certain: during a time such as this when important conversations are taking place online, brands must pause all previously planned branded content, ads and influencer partnerships that were set to go live throughout the week and potentially into the following weeks, depending on the news cycle and ongoing sensitivities. Brands that carry on as if this is just another week are being criticized for being insensitive, tone-deaf and much worse.
Your brand may have to come to terms with the fact that the best thing for you to say on social media at this moment is nothing. Muting your social channel/s to make space for the BIPOC voices in your community and industry is a very valid option that can be seen as a gesture of respect and solidarity. On the flip side of that coin, it is critical that any brands that remain silent publicly at least have an internal communications plan in place with the goal of informing all employees, investors and stakeholders of the company’s stance and the actions being taken to support that stance. The public letter Nordstrom released to its employees earlier this week is one example of how a company can address the concerns of its employees in a time-sensitive, genuine manner.
While most brands historically bow out of political and similarly hot-button topics, today’s Black Lives Matter movement is one that is arguably a humanitarian issue. For that reason, more and more brands are vocalizing their stance and their place – or lack of place – in the larger conversation. While some brands are being lauded for their decision to make their position public, others are being taken to task in the comments about what they are truly doing to push the movement forward in a meaningful and actionable way. Without a concrete answer to the questions “What donations are you making, to which nonprofit/s and are they ongoing?” “What percentage of your leadership team is made up of BIPOC?” “What actions are your executive teams taking to make sure equality and representation are engrained in your business from top to bottom?” brands are only making a hollow public statement.
As this conversation continues, as it undoubtedly should, it can be said that now more than ever it is important for companies and executives to take a look inward. If it has always been a part of your ethos to act, get involved and set change in motion, continue to do that and make some larger-scale commitments. If not, evaluate the shifts that your company can make and where your passion can be funneled to keep your brand, your community, and your employees safe and build a foundation of meaning around what your company stands for.