Social media makes public brandcalling easier than ever before.
Anyone can tag a business and hold them accountable for basically anything. This is a hefty responsibility that often befalls social media managers, content managers, and community managers. And let’s be honest — their job is to make corporate policies come to life, not to create them on a case-by-case basis. This makes replying difficult and potentially explosive.
“Why doesn’t your brand speak out against X or in favour of Y?”
The lack of outspoken support is difficult to digest for engaged activists; how hard can it be to take a stand against injustice? How hard can it be to support [enter one of thousands of great causes]?
For starters, the brand must check-in with legal, anchor the specific position internally, establish a course of action, find the right tone of voice for their brand, and assign resources for coherent actions to follow suite. CSR (corporate social responsibility) is important for establishing social capital long-term, but nevertheless, a solid strategy will require a process.
A common strategy is to wait and see what issues becomes pressing enough to warrant a statement. At best, such a strategy is to be regarded as opportunistic and callous. If you choose this route, your brand will be exposed to accusations of piggybacking on the social agenda.
Arik C. Hanson, principal of ACH Communications, 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.”
However, responding by simply taking the moral high ground is a potentially dangerous strategy as well. 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.
So, how should a community manager respond to brandcalling?
Social reforms are complex by nature. While the media is preferential to portraying conflicts as having only two polar opposite sides, the reality of social change is far more difficult to decode. And the person doing the brandcalling might be operating based on a politicized agenda, thus making the challenge of responding even more difficult1
To illustrate my answer, I must first explain my thinking: As humans, we’ve evolved to communicate with each other, not with abstractions like an organisation. But while an organisation is not “human” in any shape or form, it must still be taught to communicate as a human, a “human API” — if it’s to be understood. 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 is a true challenge in of itself.
Reply to brandcalling using a Supermensch
The trick I recommend using is to ask yourself how a strong, decent and moral human being — a “Supermensch” — would reply. A brand’s “Supermensch” is a manifestation of the best human traits that can be found in the organisation.
- When asked a tough question, such a person wouldn’t go quiet or shy away from replying. Nor would they be totally unable to emphatize.
- Such a person wouldn’t be nervous or jittery when asked a tough question — he or she is “comfortable in their own skin”.
- Such a person would never allow bullies to just push them around, either. He or she has a kind soul, for sure, but a soul that never lacks in integrity.
- Such a person would, of course, be perfectly comfortable with the humble fact that no-one can have everything completely figured out.
When I help companies reply to brandcalling, I always write in the tonality of what I imagine that the brand’s “Supermensch” would sound like.
If someone is brandcalling you in social media:
“Why doesn’t your brand speak out against industrial overfishing killing our oceans?”
A strong, decent, and moral response could be2:
“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.”
This was, obviously, a somewhat corporate “Supermensch”. Your “Supermensch” might have a little bit more attitude, or might be more easy-going. Others might be more careful and introspective. Some might even be funny or quirky. It all depends on what kind of brand you have and the sum of all the people who work there.
Manifesting a “Supermensch” is simply a powerful tool when replying to brandcalling.
- I’m in a position where I could advice companies to sit down every morning to go through all potential social issues and say, “Where do we stand on this particular issue?” Then, a social policy team would spend their time drafting possible responses, updating a growing library of documents, as well as monitoring ongoing discussions. But even with unlimited resources, this setup still wouldn’t work.
- The copywriting is partially inspired by a tweet written by Yorkshire Tea.