SWAN of the Week, No. 156
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Today’s brands are being asked to communicate their opinions about issues in the world. The conversation about what a brand believes often starts in the form of what to post on social media.
And that’s completely backward. It’s the tail wagging the dog.
The tail wagging the dog is an American idiom that dates back to at least the 1870s. “For the tail to wag the dog indicates a backwards situation where a small or unimportant entity (the tail) controls a bigger, more important one (the dog).”
In this case, “What should we post on social?” is not the right question. That’s the tail.
The question should be: “What does our company believe?” and then “What are we going to do about it?” That’s the dog. Get it?
It’s crucial that we get it. Because we’re now living in a world where a brand not only needs to have a POV about social issues, it can make a tangible difference.
We should have seen this coming.
Millennials’ changing preferences and attitudes regarding corporate responsibility, social consciousness, environmental causes, and “brand” had already impacted how companies present and position themselves. And our present circumstance of divided political ideology means that instead of looking to elected and civic leaders to set an agenda or shape our national identity, we look to identify with private companies who are using their platforms to make effective change.
You don’t have to like it. But that’s where we are.
So now it seems every couple weeks there is another opportunity for brands to share their POV on social issues in social media – #MeToo, climate change, COVID-19, #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackoutTuesday, PRIDE, #StopHateForProfit, Confederate flags, and more. And there will be more.
Each situation is impacted by quickly changing variables, such as:
- The social media, news media, and PR environment is shifting drastically on a daily basis
- Brands posting in social are either choosing sides, or bearing the consequences of not choosing sides
- Ideological-divisions are at an all-time high, impacting both customers and employees
- Election season is creating an extra level of pressure and “Red vs. Blue” can be scaled to anything and everything
But sharing a statement on social media when you don’t actually believe it, can’t back it up, or make a difference is wrong. It’s what we call performative acts, or hashtag activism.
What are the right questions to ask?
Most companies weren’t founded with social responsibility as a core mission of selling a product or service. That’s okay.
But companies today also have a huge opportunity to use their reach, dollars, and corporate values to make an impact in ways that government and elected officials are not.
If your brand hasn’t already, it’s time to ask some questions:
- What are your core values, and how to they inform how your company operates in the world, what its brand stands for, and how you can use your time and investments to do good for your customers and staff?
- Do you have a corporate social responsibility program (CSR) or foundation that can live out your company values as a complement to your core business? Are they focused on the right areas for our modern era? When was that team last invited to a meeting?
- What’s the diversity mix of your leadership team? What story does a screenshot of your executive leadership tell? What’s the plan to increase diversity? Do you own that this is a problem?
- What’s your environmental footprint, and how are you working to create a safer, more sustainable business for your employees and customers? What skeletons are in the closet you need to address proactively?
- What’s your Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, training, recruiting, and accountability process internally? How is that lived out externally?
- If you could use your company, voice, and people to make a change against sexism, systemic racism, climate change, and more – how can you make a difference, both long-term and short-term?
But wait? What are we going to post on social media today??
If you’ve answered the above questions, the social posts will write themselves.
Well, not exactly. Depending on the topic and your position, you’ll need to:
- Own your position, including previous missteps and what you’re doing about it
- Use clear and direct language and avoid throwaway sentiments
- Underline your commitment to affected groups
- Provide transparency and actionable steps, with accountability
- Start with employees and action they can take right now
More than words, the point here is that you are no longer “wagging the dog” with a social post. If you’ve established how your core values can be activated in the world, that will guide your path when it comes to what to post on Instagram.
However, if you can’t come up with tangible action, rooted in a core belief, and own your sh*t, you have no business posting anything about any social issues on social media. And frankly, you’re missing out on an opportunity to do some good. It’s not political to believe women or be anti-racist. Maybe revisit those questions above and give some thought to the role, responsibility, and opportunity of a brand in 2020 and beyond.
See you on the internet!