Updated: Feb 7
The death of George Floyd recently at the hands of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, caused millions of people around the world to express instant rage and confusion online, sending the Black Lives Matter movement into overdrive.
The event created a flurry of corporate statements in solidarity with black people in America, along with pledges of more than $1.7 billion to advance equality and racial justice while major corporations around the world flooded social media with messages of support.
Those that got it wrong though, like Crossfit's Greg Glassman and L'Oreal, paid the price.
The unprecedented outpouring of corporate support, was for the first time, met with scrutiny and skepticism.
Brands learned the hard way that people are becoming increasingly passionate about supporting products they believe in, with values aligned to their own.
As a result, marketers have been trying to connect brands to causes that make them more relevant and appealing, particularly with younger consumers.
BLM resonated so strongly with younger people though, that many brands tried to jump on the bandwagon for fear of losing relevance and being left behind. In the process, many also stumbled.
During the height of the BLM coverage, "we received a spike of 22% in new enquiry from companies looking to manage negative reviews and posts which appeared to criticise their response to the situation" says YESpbm's co-founder and CEO, Aaron Banks.
Banks continues, "a brand now needs to think about how to go beyond a simple tweet in support of a trending issue. If they get it wrong, the fallout can be disastrous."
"It’s all too easy to issue a press release, or adopt a hashtag, but have nothing to back it up in terms of action, policies and solid outcomes."
A recent example of this going horribly wrong for a major corporation was L'Oréal posting a message of solidarity for the BLM movement. The message opened a door for Munroe Bergdorf, a former model, to accuse the company of “dropping her” for speaking out about racism years ago.
CrossFit's founder and CEO, Greg Glassman, announced his “retirement” following backlash over remarks he made about George Floyd's death.
In a more recent example, Domino's Pizza in New Zealand and Australia pulled a promotion offering free pizza to 'Karen's,' after receiving a strong backlash. The move followed Domino's offering a giveaway which rewarded anyone named 'Karen,' if they wrote 250 words explaining how and why they were actually “nice”.
A 'Karen' meme is often used in many cases involving racism, and usually describes a middle-class white woman who feels entitled or loves to complain. Feeling this was unfair, Domino’s Pizza claims they wanted to offer “nice” Karen’s a break.
The promotional stunt soon received a backlash on social media, however, with many calling for Domino's to give away free pizza to those living in poverty instead. An apology was later issued on Facebook for Domino's in both New Zealand and Australia announcing the closure of the campaign.
During a crisis like this, many companies can appear confused about how to position themselves.
Do they wade in and take a stance? What should they say or do, if anything? How do they convey a point-of-view that sounds genuine, without it backfiring and the company or executives in the company, being bullied or trolled online?
How do they respond to questions from customers like, 'What are you doing about xxx?." If they reply, they now face fallout should that reply not be “heartfelt” or on-trend with current sentiment. If they remain silent, they could face the same backlash, while being considered “tone-deaf”.
Large organizations spend a small fortune on internal experts and external consultants to answer these questions. Focus groups are assembled in minutes when major issues start to trend (such as with BLM), press releases are A/B tested in real time to test the tone and response. It’s all very scientific and still so many get it wrong.
If a CEO or spokesperson sends a Tweet or gets recorded in a meeting saying the wrong thing, or not being “sympathetic enough”, the online retribution and brand damage can be catastrophic.
As can be the personal impact when an executive is labeled online with everything from sexist or misogynist to racist and elitist.
It’s a minefield out there.
What if you don’t have millions of dollars for in-house teams and focus groups?
Many small to medium businesses are now finding great value in outsourcing these worries to a team of specialists like YESpbm.
Key stakeholders in businesses with named principals such as surgeons, or partners in legal practice, find particular value in the peace of mind that outsourcing reputation or review management can offer.
Entrepreneurs seeking funding, through to directors running a small business have also reported a significant upside in having their brand and message managed professionally from the outset.
Companies must take a long-term, ongoing approach to the issue and can start by gauging what matters to their employees. Regular team surveys or chats in the lunchroom are beneficial, and allow stakeholders to use their team as a compass on complex social issues. Outcomes following these discussions are often better than a shot in the dark.
Many executives also note an increase in business, along with improvements to mental health and stress levels as an upside to their Online Reputation Management being handled proactively, and professionally on their behalf by companies like YESpbm.
"It’s all too easy to issue a press release, or adopt a hashtag, but have nothing to back it up in terms of action, policies, and solid outcomes."
Now, many executives see a greater risk in not taking a stance on social issues.
Companies are finding out the hard way that just sharing a press release or social media post when an issue is “trending”, is not showing solidarity in the way consumers now want to see.
Consumers are demanding a long-standing commitment on issues important to them - and will now hold you, and your brand, accountable if you get it wrong.