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From Budweiser to Dove, Pepsi and now Nike, brands are finding themselves having to deal with a new social media backlash issue. Whether or not they have gone out of their way to provoke or simply made a mistake, the hate their actions can generate on social media is a fast-growing problem.
For some brands, the situation arises by being bold and taking a stand. Consider Nike, which recently triggered hate by recruiting controversial former NFL star Colin Kaepernick as one of the faces of its new ad campaign. Or Budweiser, which provoked Trump supporters to take to social media to vow never to drink the beer again after the brand launched “Born the Hard Way,” a pro-immigration ad.
For others, it is the result of misjudgment. Though its intention was to promote diversity, a Facebook ad for Dove unwittingly provoked accusations of racism in a loud social backlash. Pepsi meanwhile fell foul with its Kendall Jenner ad, an error of judgment that provoked accusations that brand was tone deaf.
Whatever the cause, however, the speed with which a social backlash can now occur and gather momentum makes it critical for any brand owner to ensure from the get-go they have a plan for how they are going to publicly address negativity.
Don’t just silence the haters
Almost all brands choose to silence hate on social media by simply deleting hateful posts, such as racist or homophobic comments in response to ads that include more diverse family units or anti-Islamic replies to holiday campaigns where wider religious and racial diversity have been shown. Simply sweeping the problem under the carpet, however, does not make it go away. That’s not standing up for the issues represented because silence sounds like complicity and shows brands as being all about the ads rather than action itself—and action may be exactly what’s needed.
This poses unique questions in particular for brands planning advertising campaigns based on diversity, inclusion and minority issues.
With a plan in place, an effective response can be possible and might even help your brand gain strength from the community by allowing a more positive voice and then amplifying it. Letting the community speak in this way firmly silences those who are negative, forcing them to leave the stage.
This is reminiscent of the #MeToo movement. There’s power in thinking you won’t accept certain things anymore. Once you start to speak out and speak back, pushing against hate speak, many other voices will join in, and your brand may have a veritable chorus.
How to create an effective anti-hate policy
It’s not always easy but creating your own anti-hate policy is the first step in addressing the problem of online malice. Ensure this is visible and accessible to all. This will show the public, including marginalized communities, where your brand stands. Guide your page moderators in their response to hateful comments and discourage hateful sentiment in all guises.
Facebook and Twitter have both committed to investing more in curbing problem behaviors. As a starting point, it can be beneficial to use these platforms’ community guidelines as a basis for your own policy. Such policies vary in size and scope. For instance, Reddit’s is 36 words while Facebook’s stretches to 25 pages. All contain useful phrasing on the type of language and behavior that won’t be tolerated. You can add additional wording from your brand’s existing internal HR or operational policies.
Anyone reading should be clear on the kind of space you want to create for users. And make it public; publish your policy on your social media pages so everyone is clear on the rules.
Responding to every comment right after it has been left on your page won’t always be possible, but when launching a campaign that contains an increased risk of triggering backlash, monitor comments closely for the first few days, then on a less frequent basis as time goes on. You may decide to review posts every 15–30 minutes on the first day of the campaign and then every two hours for a week or so after the launch.
What’s to lose?
More fundamentally, when your brand is faced with hate, ask yourself if deleting and forgetting about it is really the right thing to do. There’s surely a more powerful way forward, especially in cases where the brand is taking a proactive stand. By taking this path, your brand can start a movement that stamps out hate far more effectively than simply censoring it.
By standing up to online hate, your brand has a lot less to lose than ignoring it and hoping that it will go away.