In today’s global community social media keeps us more connected than ever and that goes for  brands as well. People expect brands and businesses to speak out during politized moments – and quite frankly, they should. As our Marketing Assistant Mariah Kent says, “We want to know that the brands we support are supporting us back.” Over the last few weeks we’ve gotten to see how some brands have really been able to create meaningful changes and take a strong stance against racism and police brutality. On the same hand, we’ve also seen how empty activism has backfired greatly. 

When your brand posts in support of a global protest or movement, you better be ready to back up that post with tangible actions and financial contributions or your audience will call you to task and hold you accountable.  A micro-case study of this played out with a business I follow on Instagram last week. They posted the black out challenge black square (Which was controversial in its own right) but turned the comments off. News started circulating that they were deleting comments asking about what the business will be doing to support Black Lives Matter and then blocking those accounts. Talk about a major way to alienate not only your customers but an entire community. News spread of this behavior, because nothing happens in a bubble on social media, and they were soon receiving hundreds of comments and messages. After 24 hours of this they made an apology post, but the damage was done. 

What can be learned here? First and foremost, don’t post about social and political issues just to get clout. The number one mistake brands make when getting involved with a movement is underestimating their audience. People care about accountability and empty words are not enough if it’s not followed by action. Your audience will be looking to see a confirmation that your words and actions align.

Secondly, be ready to have a dialogue with your followers. It’s ok not to have all the answers but you should have a clear stance on the issue that you’re able to clearly and simply communicate. Social media has changed the game – when a brand releases a statement it’s not just detached words sitting on a printed page. Posting on social media is a living and active form of communication. You are initiating a conversation with your audience and will be expected to respond and engage in a back and forth. 

Some examples of brands that are headed in the right direction are: 

  • Clothing brands such as Patagonia, Supreme, and A-Cold-Wall which have posted screenshots of their large donations to Black Lives Matter and similar organizations. They also shared links and explanations about the organizations, encouraging their followers to donate and support as well. 
  • Ben & Jerry’s, the beloved ice cream brand, made their stance loud and clear. They published a blog with a 4 step action plan on how they will be combating racism. They also have and continue to produce anti-racism content and materials that they share with their followers. They prominently display their viewpoints and these articles on their home page.
  • Netflix recently launched their Black Lives Matter homepage with movies and documentaries that highlight “powerful and complex narratives about the Black experience.”  Their CEO also donated 1 million dollars towards an organization dedicated to reforming racism and racist policies in the police force.

If you’re a small business this can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Take some time to come up with a plan to combat racism internally and externally. Research local or national organizations that stand with your values and make a donation. Even better, designate a percentage of sales from certain items to be routinely donated to the charity of your choice. Internally, have discussions with your employees about ways you can be actively anti-racist. Provide anti-racist materials or sponsor a course for your employees to take. Just these simple steps are a great foundation to get started and make sure your words have meaning, not just for your business, but for your entire community.