The following is a guest piece by Amy Luca, executive vice president and global head of social media at Media.Monks. Opinions are the author’s own.
One single tweet from Kylie Jenner has the potential to sink your stock — even if your brand is as massive as Snapchat — and one influencer post can trigger a boycott. Just look at Bud Light, which experienced a significant drop in sales following the negative response from conservative commentators after the brand’s association with Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender influencer. No matter how noble the intent behind your social media content or the established reputation of your brand, it can easily succumb to controversy if the strategy and execution is not handled right.
The fact of the matter is, we are currently in a time when the relentless culture wars have resulted in a certain degree of advocacy fatigue among the audience — an exhaustion that is only predicted to escalate as the 2024 U.S. elections draw near. While brands’ efforts to be more inclusive should be embraced, the manner in which they approach it is just as important.
We’re two decades deep into social platforms, but as I collaborate with more and more brands, I've come to realize that many still cling to outdated notions — like the belief that an organization can maintain a social strategy that’s independent of the marketing strategy. These are inherently intertwined, and marketers need to understand this if their aim is to develop social content that is cohesive, relevant and actually meaningful for the causes their brands endorse.
So, amid such volatile online discourse and this sense of weariness, what can brands do to stay relevant and true to their social purpose without adding to the fatigue?
We need to rethink strategy and governance
If the power of a single social post can either establish a brand as a positive force or lead to its downfall, then it’s imperative that marketers, CEOs and everyone in between recognize that social media is not merely a peripheral aspect of their marketing efforts. A brand’s reputation, shareholder value and potential for growth are directly linked to how the brand is perceived on social.
That’s why brands should approach their social strategy as an integral part of the business strategy — and support it with a robust governance model. Without aligning social media with other initiatives such as advertising campaigns, PR and experiential marketing, delivering a unified and cohesive brand message becomes challenging.
Similarly, establishing clear guidelines, processes and controls to govern the brand’s social media activities will allow you to better manage its presence. Questions I always ask clients include: What are the specific roles and responsibilities assigned to each team member? Are the visual identity and tone of voice adhering to the brand’s values? What are the steps in reviewing and approving social media content before it goes live?
This, in addition to the corresponding compliance considerations and a clear crisis management procedure, will help you minimize risk and mitigate any potential reputational damage. Take a moment to revisit your playbook, making necessary updates to ensure it encompasses all these aspects.
Joyful content: The antidote to activism fatigue
Brand values matter, that’s a given. According to data from GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance study, 70% of non-LGBTQ+ adults agree that companies should publicly support the LGBTQ+ community through advertising and sponsorships, as well as hiring practices. People are itching to rally behind brands that genuinely care about the issues they deem important, and are hyper-aware of those who fail to practice what they preach — or rather, what they advise others to do. Because let’s be clear: preaching is the one thing you should steer clear of.
Unfortunately, the line between allyship and preaching is indeed delicate. In the effort to support their communities, brands can go from authentically championing important causes to inadvertently coming across as self-righteous and insincere. As a result, audiences are weary and overwhelmed, yearning for spaces of refuge amidst the culture wars raging on.
But here’s the good news: brands hold the cure for activism fatigue. By creating a positive and uplifting environment, you can offer a much-needed respite from the constant stream of serious topics and provide a space for relaxation and enjoyment. Infuse your content with creativity, and you’ll be able to create entertaining, lighthearted moments of joy for the audience.
All of this isn’t to suggest that your social values should take a backseat. Instead, offer a mix of content where both entertainment and commitment to serious issues hold equal significance. And when you focus on the latter, avoid engaging in short-term, attention-grabbing campaigns that may provoke negative reactions. Demonstrate consistent dedication to your overall mission and remain steadfast in supporting the causes of your choice — or, to put it simply, don’t waffle.
To combat advocacy fatigue and thrive in the midst of the ongoing culture wars, you can start by integrating the social strategy into the overall business approach. Let’s avoid preaching, so that you can authentically and consistently champion important causes and create a positive and uplifting environment for your audience.