Brands: This Is Not a Marketing Moment

A lesson for brands in response to the mayhem at the U.S. Capitol

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Wednesday morning, I woke up to the news that Georgia Democrats flipped the Senate. I reflected on how fortunate I am to have witnessed the elections of the first African-American president, the first African-American vice president, and now, the election of the first African-American senator from Georgia.

As an Atlanta-born, Black American, this not only felt like a win for the country but a win for myself and my community. I was on a high and so was the rest of my Twitter feed.

From joy-scrolling to doom-scrolling

Throughout my workday, I checked Twitter to revel in the celebration. Suddenly, I began to see the videos and images of pro-Trump “protestors” (i.e., insurrectionists, rioters and vandals) flood my timeline. The ultimate punch in the gut was seeing a tweet from POTUS claiming that the election was stolen. Witnessing the leader of our nation tell domestic terrorists that he loves them and thinks they’re “very special” was not how I thought my day was going to go.

Fortunately, I work at a company that values wellness and prioritizes mental well-being. The cofounders emailed our team to inform us that they were cancelling work and observing a mental health day.

Putting on the marketing hat

As an American citizen, I was incredibly disappointed and disheartened. However, those were feelings that I quickly had to put aside, in order to make the decision that social media marketers know all too well–––to post or not to post.

In times of chaos and uncertainty, it is the job of the social media manager to think quickly and have discernment. This especially rings true when political disarray is engulfing the majority of conversations across social media platforms. As the social lead for a CPG brand, I had to decide whether to push pause on a social post that had been scheduled a week prior or to let the post be published at the time that I had planned.

Halting social media content

This is a tough call to make, especially when it is a post that you’re proud of. Whether it’s copy that took hours to write—and several rounds of review to be finalized—or creative that started as a doodle on paper and was brought to life by a talented designer, sometimes you have to put your ego (or launch date) aside for the sake of your brand but more importantly, your community.

Ultimately, I decided to halt all of our scheduled social media content because it was simply not the appropriate time to talk about the brand. As marketers, we tend to get very caught up in what we want our audience to see and what we think they want to hear. It’s understandable because this is what we do––we take data and analytics and create insights around consumer behavior. However, what we should really be focusing on is what consumers say they want to see and hear: it is not hot takes” or the opinions of the social media managers behind the accounts of major brands.

It’s not about you

Political and social unrest and the conversations that stem from it are not new. In 2020, we saw several global brands take to Twitter to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and take a stance against police brutality and violence. While these brand statements seemed to come out in droves, consumers were not satisfied.

So, in times of anarchy, what should you do?

Shut up and listen.

Your community will tell you exactly what they want from you. There is no need to post about your product or service because it is likely not relevant to the issues that concern them on a day-to-day basis. A product launch, campaign launch, or new blog post are very miniscule events that can be reworked, re-strategized and rescheduled.

If you do find yourself in a position in which you would like to leverage your social media channels for education or information on cultural moments and social issues, that is your opportunity to pass the mic:

  • Inviting advocates in your social community to take over your channels (i.e. Instagram stories takeovers);
  • Collaborating with influencers and creators to create content that your social community cares about (i.e. infographics, videos, blogs, etc.); or
  • Hosting live events or chats with subject matter experts that specialize in education around social justice and issues (i.e. environmentalism, racial injustice, LGBTQIA+ issues, etc.)

Today’s consumer is changing. Values-based consumerism is becoming more ever present, as customers are making purchasing decisions based on whether the brands they are buying from have values that align with their social, political, and moral beliefs. Simply, they want to be advocates for the brands that are on the right side of history. During the hard times, your audience will be watching to see what choices you’re making as a brand. The decision you have to make is determining whether you will show up for them or not.

If you’re unsure how to show up, just be quiet.