More than at any time in our history, the people have the power.
Social media has given us a megaphone to express, connect and organize, driving some of the most powerful civil rights movements of the last decade. Social media has also created, in some ways, a dream scenario for brands, which can get instant feedback on campaigns, products, services, and initiatives, and join in on broad cultural moments as they happen.
But a two-way conversation between consumers and brands can quickly go south. If a brand does something that angers or disappoints its audience, it risks being “canceled” for its missteps.
Calling companies out on social media can be productive if it highlights bigger problems in society and forces others to learn from their mistakes. In 2016, for example, consumers immediately called out Microsoft after internet trolls hijacked its AI bot, Tay, to spout racist and misogynist remarks. That sparked a broader conversation about building unconscious bias into algorithms.
The stakes are even higher today, as brands are being called on to forcefully take part in the largest civil rights movement in a generation. But if society cancels all of the brands that fumble in their journey to bring more equity to our society, we’ll see paralysis instead of progress.
As long as the intent is genuine, we cannot crucify brands that occasionally miss the mark.
The beginnings of a playbook
Corporations today no longer have a pass to stay silent, and therefore must create a strategic approach to broaching the unavoidable conversation of race in America. For those that are just starting to do the work, here’s a simple playbook to follow:
Step 1: Take a position
We live in incredibly politicized times, so don’t be skittish about taking a “side.” Consumers and employees today want to understand your valuesThinking about how you can affect real people is always a good place to start. Racism is bad for humans. Go from there.
Step 2: Make it clear
People today demand to know where you stand on social issues, as well as your progress toward achieving your goals to be better. Whether you just realized there is a problem, or you’ve already implemented policies and made public pledges, your employees, partners and customers will demand an idea of where you are on the map. That position needs to be clear.
Step 3: Commit
Consumers today have no tolerance for brands that are inauthentic on topics like race. Be open and transparent about where you’re at, and the public will be more forgiving when you make a mistake.
Sharing your progress will also open up a dialogue so you can learn and course correct with feedback from your audience. This transparency will strengthen your brand long-term.
Step 4: Double down
Be prepared to stand by your position, even when it's difficult to do so. Commit to revisiting your company values to track your progress regularly. Track that progress and make it public. And own up when you miss the mark.
If we allow brands to fail, we can help them learn. The last thing this country needs is its most powerful corporations doing nothing out of fear of being canceled.
Travis Montaque is the founder and CEO of messaging platform Holler