Social Media Activism & A Brand’s Role

Social Media Activism & A Brand’s Role

In this guest post, Vishesh Bhavsar (main photo), research and insights manager at One Green Bean, takes a look at the pros and cons of brands and social activism…

The rise of social media has provided an amazing platform for people to express their opinion freely, protest injustices and stand up for what they believe in.

Because of this, discussions on social platforms have become increasingly polarizing and can lack neutral ground.

According to Facebook IQ’s Gen Z Shift report, Gen Zers more than any other generation, share a powerful belief that they can change the world—and they now expect brands to join them.

This new generation of vocal social campaigners is a prime target audience for some brands, who are now responding more than ever to social justice movements.

So that begs the question for the brands: What is more beneficial – being reactive or proactive when it comes to social activism? Particularly when pressure is applied from consumers.

As a part of my role as Research and Insights Manager at one green bean, this is something I often consider, which prompted me to share my opinion on the matter.

Would you believe there are more than a billion mentions of the term ‘protest’ and ‘boycott’ on social channels since January 2014? The mentions have increased by 1000% year-on-year. As a comparison, there were approximately 134 million mentions of ‘technology’ and approximately 107 million mentions of ‘science’ in the same period.

As you can see, social activism is capturing an overwhelming share of voice, which is now making it almost impossible for brands to ignore.

2020 has been a year of protests and social media has played a key role.

Take for example the #blackouttuesday movement. Many consumers, celebrities and brands changed their profile pictures to a solid black square to raise awareness of racism and the effects it has on society.

However, over time the movement on social media started to get diluted. The mentions of the hashtag dropped from over a million on the first day to approximately 30,000 mentions globally the next week.

Interestingly, if you now search the #BlackoutTuesday hashtag on Instagram, you will see beauty influencers, aspiring models and random meme content.

Furthermore, when I completed some social listening, it was obvious that numerous people had gone back and deleted their black square image.

Another example is the #StopHateForProfit campaign where Facebook was accused of letting people circulate hate-provoking content too freely. As a result, some businesses and non-profits paused their paid advertising to hold the platform accountable.

Media coverage and a spike in social mentions saw more than 1200 brands take part.

For some brands there was a natural fit to take part of the campaign – given their history of inclusivity and company values. For others, it was a brief pause before regular spending resumed.

Both these examples show how powerful momentum and public pressure can be.

Today’s consumer expects more from brands. They support companies who use their reach for positive impact and just as quickly, they can criticize companies who remain silent.

This brings a great dilemma for the brands – what, when and how to support social activism.

The following is a simple checklist I think every brand should consider before jumping in.

  1. Be authentic – if the brand has no credibility for that particular cause, perhaps it’s best to apply resources to other areas.
  2. Social media pressure should not be a reason for brand to stand by any cause. It has to be built in its values.
  3. Action speaks louder than words. Brands should proactively lead by example and encourage their consumers to be involved in the ‘good’ they do.

There are new protests and boycotts initiated on social media every day. Which means that the pressure on brands to align to social activism causes will only increase in the future. Brands should choose their support cautiously and be led by their values.

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Vishesh Bhavsar

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