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Navigating a Brand’s Social Responsibility

Sunday marked the fourth night of protests across the country sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. In recent weeks, it has taken a lot for anything to break through the coronavirus headlines, but with widespread protests in many major cities, this unrest has been and will be top of mind for the foreseeable future.

Large American companies often steer clear of taking a hard stance on polarizing topics, fearing offending their customers over sensitive issues. However, we have been seeing more and more organizations voice their viewpoints regarding police violence and racial injustice. How people expect businesses to show their commitment to social responsibility has changed in the age of more socially-connected consumers. People also generally believe that larger companies have more power than smaller companies, and as a result, more responsibility. They expect to hear from them, and they expect meaningful action, not just empty words.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that a decision to take a stance on a social movement shouldn’t be because it is trendy, and you must not be perceived as exploiting a tragedy to create a buzz around your brand. It has to express a belief that is authentic and consistent with your mission and your prior actions and statements. What is your brand identity and what are your long-term goals? Do they align with the messaging that you release in the midst of social turmoil?

Silence can be perceived as a stance of its own. Refraining from speaking to them can seem like a “safe” option, but that is not always the case. If a social issue is relevant to a brand’s identity, it should be addressed.

From a preparedness perspective, here are a few things you must consider:

• Through what channels will you communicate your message?
• How will you respond to negative comments?
• How will you moderate the conversation if at all?

To get an idea of what a good response looks like, here are some that have stood out:

Reebok

The shoe company posted a short tweet on Saturday, saying “We are not asking you to buy our shoes. We are asking you to walk in someone else’s.” We have seen companies not-so-slyly hop on a social movement to try to increase brand loyalty with where it stands. The way you convey your beliefs as an organization need to be true to your values, and not a ruse to increase sales. Reebok took a bold move by addressing this common tactic head-on.

Netflix

The media titan also took to Twitter to reinforce that organizations with a large platform have an obligation to use it for social good. Their wording even seems to encourage other companies of similar stature to consider doing the same. Twitter has become the most popular channel for organizations to share their messaging on this issue, as it welcomes comments, criticism, and praise that can be responded to in a one-to-one conversation.

Glossier

The beauty brand announced its solidarity with the fight against racism and pledged a total of $1 million towards organizations focused on combating racial injustice. Many times, a tweet saying that your organization believes in something just isn’t enough. People want to see tangible actions that benefit a cause, and they want it to be specific. Glossier did well by stating the specific sum of money that they are donating, as well as the specific foundations that the money will be going towards.

Peloton

The at-home fitness company has taken similar action to Glossier, pledging $500,000 to NAACP LDF. They go on to encourage other companies with similar following and financial ability to do the same. A singular action can be a huge step in the right direction, but pushing other organizations to be involved when they may not otherwise is what can result in a much broader and impactful change.

But not all have done it right…

Washington Nationals

In light of the protests, the Nationals followed in the footsteps of several other professional baseball teams, issuing a social-awareness statement. The 262-word remark did not directly address racism, police misconduct, or even the ongoing protests. Instead, they seemed to pat themselves on the back, even pointing to their World Series victory as a “living example of cultural diversity blending” together. In a city experiencing serious unrest, and one that only a few years ago paid for a $600 million ballpark entirely with public funds, the statement comes across as completely bland and tone-deaf. They are getting slammed on social media, and perhaps rightly so.

More Resources:

Here is a breakdown of where the largest corporate donations to the Black Lives Movement are actually going. Some highlights:

  • Uber – $1 million to the Equal Justice Initiative and the Center for Policing Equity
  • YouTube – $1 million to the Center for Policing Equity
  • AirBnb – $500,000 to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter
  • Away – $700,000 to Black Lives Matter, The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Bail Project, The Equal Justice Initiative, the Center for Policing Equity, Campaign Zero, Project NIA, Color of Change, Until Freedom, and the Loveland Foundation
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