Brandcallers often use social media to coerce brands.
“Why doesn’t your brand speak out against X or in favour of Y?”
Of course, anyone can tag a business in social media and hold them accountable for basically anything. And fellow online activists know how to make it storm in a glass of water.
How do you answer brandcallers?
Answering is a strategic responsibility that often befalls social media managers, content managers, and community managers.
But let’s be honest — their job is to make corporate policies come to life — not to make them up as they go along.
This makes replying difficult … and potentially explosive.
Why brands can’t “just take a stand”
“How hard can it be to take a stand against injustice.” someone might object. “It shouldn’t be a problem for a brand whatsoever!”
For example, the organisation might have to check-in with legal, anchor a new specific position internally, establish a roadmap for further actions, find the right tone of voice for their brand, and assign resources for the long-term.
In other words: No, brands can’t just come out against or in favour of various causes. Not like that.
And definitely too important to let brandcallers in social media dictate the terms.
This is especially true when brandcallers are highly organised and operating based on a politicized agenda.
Too woke — or not woke enough
With CSR issues becoming increasingly important, brands must find strategies to deal with brandcallers.
Arik C. Hanson, PR blogger, writes:
“[…] we’ve seen numerous reports from vendors and agencies like Edelman telling us 1 in every 2 customers is a ‘belief-driven buyer.’ And, of those buyers, 65% will not buy from a brand because they stayed silent on an issue it had an obligation to address.”
So, how do we navigate the jungle of moral issues?
A common brand strategy, albeit not a great one, is to wait and see which issues become pressing enough to warrant a statement.
At best, such a strategy is opportunistic and callous. If you choose this route, your brand will be exposed to accusations of piggybacking on the social agenda.
When Gillette decided to come out in-front of ongoing gender discussions by shaming both themselves and their customer base for being perpetrators of toxic masculinity, it backfired.
Opting to score points by going for the moral high ground is a potentially dangerous strategy. Opting to please brandcallers while disregarding the business strategy is … madness.
A dose of sobering realism
Social reforms are complex by nature.
Whilst both the news media and the social algorithms are preferential to portraying conflicts as having only two polar opposite sides, the reality of social change is better understood as a spectrum.
A brand could be super progressive by design, but any brand must remember that its co-workers might have a wide variety of political persuasions. Diversity is good — also when it comes to political ideas.
Let’s be pragmatic.
Should brands sit down every morning to go through all potential social issues and say, “Where do we stand on this particular issue?” Should a social policy team spend their days drafting possible responses while continuously updating a growing library of documents?
Well, maybe they should. But for most brands, this type of setup would be financially impossible. Irresponsible, even.
There must be another way.
Teaching brands to “speak human”
So, how should a community manager respond to brandcallers?
Let me first explain my thinking:
As humans, we’ve evolved to communicate with each other, not with abstractions. This is why we tend to humanise brands, to think of a brand as a living entity with a mind of its own.
In PR and marketing, we humanise brands all the time for this exakt reason.
But while an organisation is not “human” in any sense of the word, it must still be taught to impersonate a human being. As a professional communicator, this is essentially what I do for a living.
And make no mistake about it:
Getting an organisation to “speak human” with a large number of unique individuals simultaneously, well, that’s a true challenge.
The Supermensch approach
The strategy I recommend is to begin by asking yourself how a strong, decent, and moral human being — “a Supermensch” — would reply to brandcallers.
A brand’s Supermensch is the sum of all the best human traits that can be found in the organisation.
How would this work?
When asked a tough question, a Supermensch wouldn’t go quiet or shy away from replying. Nor would they be unable to empathise.
Confidence. A Supermensch wouldn’t be nervous when asked a tough question — he or she would be “comfortable in their own skin”.
Integrity. A Supermensch would never allow bullies to just push them around. He or she would stand up for itself and others.
Pragmatism. A Supermensch is comfortable with the humble fact that no-one can have everything completely figured out.
Finding your Supermensch voice
When I help companies reply to brandcalling, I almost always use the Supermensch approach.
”Why doesn’t your brand speak out against industrial overfishing killing our oceans?”
A strong, decent, and moral response1 could then be:
”Thanks for wanting to direct our attention to this issue. We’re taking our time to educate ourselves and we prefer to plan our public policy carefully before we post. That said, our core value is of course that all businesses should be sustainable.”
Your brand’s Supermensch might have a little bit more attitude, or might be more easy-going. Others might be more careful. Some might be funny or quirky. It all depends on what kind of brand you have — and the sum of all the people who work there.
With a bit of practice, the Supermensch approach is a functional strategy that can be taught to everyone responsible for managing brandcallers in social media.
It will allow your operative team to speak freely in social media, while not getting themselves wrapped up in agenda-driven political discussions.
- The copywriting is partially inspired by a tweet written by Yorkshire Tea.