Should Brands Jump Into Political Conversations?

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  • 2/27/2017
    While harmlessly scrolling through the Twitter feed one evening, a barrage of politically charged conversations were taking place with friends, relatives, randoms and celebrities. That, however, wasn’t the weirdest part. No, the strangest part of this current-events-bashing involved several brands getting in on the conversation.

    That’s right, we’re walking in an apocalyptic time where brands are turning into human beings with thoughts, feelings and now actions thanks to social media. Hide all of the social media marketing don’ts you thought you knew, because it appears that marketers and brands are throwing caution to the wind and behaving like the rest of us with opinions and thoughts on political and cultural events. And that’s not the interesting part, these brands are doing this with the benefits of massive, tuned-in audiences listening and responding. A little different than just your mom or BFF reading your personal social media rants, right?

    As marketers, there’s an understood responsibility to make a brand more human online when engaging with consumers, but also not too human to the point of ridicule. It seems as though in the post-truth era of our world, these conversations have minimized brand values and heightened the desire to take a stand on issues that affect the consumer in order to grow a similarly minded audience.

    While this might not sound bad on paper, and sure who doesn’t want to be fighting for the consumer rather than against them, the impact to a business’ bottom line takes the biggest hit in the long run. Consumers feel outraged and start boycotting the brand. In turn, brands make follow-up statements to indicate that anyone upset isn’t the kind of person the brand wants to buy its product anyway or that it’s really sorry for the squashed feelings.

    But what’s the real impact?

    Well, BudweiserUberUnder Armour and Starbucks have had a fair share of backlash from consumers because of getting involved in political conversations. These companies all made statements (some for, some against) recent executive orders from President Donald Trump. Consumers took to social media with hashtags like #DeleteUber and #BoycottBudweiser to spread the word about the situations. Then consumers indicated that they’d stop purchasing products from the brands, a big disaster for some companies. When jumping into the political sphere, the costs are high for both brand and consumer.

    Another recent example of such a conversation, that somewhat backfired, was when 84 Lumber released its Super Bowl commercial that some have now claimed appears to be in support of illegal immigration. What was intended to come across as a heartwarming story about the will to succeed, ended up causing the brand a lot of backlash. Even though the brand went to the trouble of crafting a strategic message, the results were far from its intention or so the CEO now says.

    What exactly happens when you veer off the course of your strategically created social media marketing plan or campaign? Let’s just say it’ll be interesting to see what sales look like come summer.

    So when should brands get involved in the conversations, dare we ask?

    Well, that depends. First, we always recommend having a social media strategy in place no matter your future approach. If that doesn’t include a “what if” plan in case conversations start taking place about sensitive topics, we also recommend looking into adding specifics that outline what to do, who handles it and how it happens. Until you create that plan, however, it’s probably best to just stay neutral and focus on marketing other content to consumers.

    On the other hand, if you’re feeling bold and want to jump in anyway (even though the water is deeper than it appears), there are a few questions you need to ask your team before cannonballing in.
    1. How might consumers perceive the statement?

    Look at the good, bad and ugly of what you’re saying. Is it hurtful to a specific group of people? Does it sound harsh? Would your grandmother be disappointed if she heard it? If there’s a twinge of doubt in your stomach, you might want to devise a more comprehensive plan to the statement. In other words, it’s not ready to share with the world yet.
    1. If you do upset your consumers, or a select group of them, what’s your plan?

    Worrying doesn’t do anyone any good, but planning for the worst case scenario in this situation might be the only saving grace. If you don’t think you can devise a good way to make amends for the damage, you’ll really have to determine if it’s worth the risk. While we aren’t saying not to post the controversial content, we are saying there’s got to be a method to the madness. Passion-posting something might not feel the same way the next day. Tread carefully.
    1. Can your team manage this conversation in the future?

    If making the statement subsequently unlocks the secret passage to the land of internet trolls, again consider rethinking the statement or reworking your plan to deal with the conversation. If you want to rock the boat, make sure you have your life vests ready.
    1. What’s the long term goal of the statement?

    Did you develop the stance your brand is going to take on whatever statement you’re making into the future? Without having a plan that goes farther than just a single Tweet or Facebook post, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

    If you’ve answered all of the above questions and still feel good about whatever conversation you’re getting into, then there are also a few key steps you’ll want to take.
    1. Monitor

    Establish monitoring tools like Brandwatch, Hootsuite or Talkwalker alerts to keep an eye on the conversations and people engaging with your brand. Use keywords to narrow down the results to listen closely and carefully. Don’t listen to reply, listen to understand and then execute strategic responses.
    1. Do Your Homework

    If you’re taking a stand, then you better do your homework. Nothing’s worse than posting false or outdated information and getting called on it. Don’t get caught having an opinion as a brand without knowing all of the facts or the full story.
    1. Remember, Forever

    It might be a cliché statement, but every piece of content posted on the internet is eternal. It’s not going anywhere and once it’s out there, you’re stuck with it for good. Even when it’s deleted, there’s a risk that someone else took a picture of it and will continue to share a slip-up.

    Crawling back down from the diving board yet? If not, we’re all for taking a bold stand that aligns with your brand’s values, reputation and consumers. At the end of the day, the social media sphere is one giant chatroom meant to empower the masses. So if you’re feeling the urge to get involved—go for it. But don’t blindly leap into a position without knowing what the long term effects are or you might be backpedaling like 84 Lumber’s CEO is currently. Make strategic social media decisions that follow the plan you’ve set and allow yourself the flexibility to deviate from the course when necessary.

    In the meantime if you’re looking to create a social media marketing plan that puts your brand’s best foot forward, give us call or drop us a note. We’re more than happy to help you create a master plan that will spark conversations.
    About the author:: Hanna Steinker is the Social Media Coordinator at thunder::tech. She connects her clients with the right channels, audience, and develops and executes social media strategies. She also loves her cat, a healthy debate and strong tequila. 
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