5 steps to navigate brand messaging in a time of civil unrest so you don't lose customer trust
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to show their support for racial justice after the death of George Floyd led to protests against police brutality across the US. But many businesses have been silent, perhaps because they aren't sure how to best express their support or are afraid of backlash.
Rebranding expert Tiffany Tolliver said silence is the worst thing for a company right now. A brand's choice to not say anything could affect its bottom line at a time when messaging should be so much more than a single post."It's not just a blanket one-step move," she told Business Insider. "It's rooted in a consistent plan for action."
Tolliver is the founder ofThe Emmarose Agency, which provides brand consulting and web design for women entrepreneurs. Over the past several days, she's seen prime examples of brand statements that support people of color, as well as disappointing examples of how brands are missing the mark.
She analyzed social media posts to break down what works, what doesn't, and why brand messaging in a time of civil unrest and injustice is so important for your business. Step 1: Decide against silence. It's counterproductive and could affect your bottom line.
There are two main reasons silence is not the answer, Tolliver said. The first is that it's counterproductive to the conversations happening around racism, police brutality, and inequality. When brands owned and operated predominantly by white people choose not to speak out, they are opting out of using their privilege and influence to reach people. It can communicate to customers and followers that the company's leadership doesn't care, or point to an underlying fault that its teams are not diverse.
"It goes back to us not feeling seen and heard," Tolliver said. "The businesses and the brands that I love, that I support, that I give my money to, when I see them making a choice to be silent, it almost feels like they don't understand me."
Secondly, when white-owned and operated businesses stay silent, they are inadvertently passing the work onto an oppressed community that is hurting emotionally, physically, and mentally. Though a company's vow to be silent could be intended to listen and be thoughtful, it undermines the very people they are trying to consider and could leave them feeling underserved and unheard.
This can also influence how non-black communities and allies take their cues and react to these issues, continuing the cycle of unheard voices among the oppressed. "If I'm a non person of color and I see brands muting themselves, I probably will mute myself as well," Tolliver said.
Ultimately, silence could hurt your bottom line. Over the past couple of days, Tolliver has seen companies delete Facebook comments and threads, effectively muting a conversation, which can lead to customers drawing away from that community and pulling out their money.
"If I feel comfortable there, I personally am going to spend my dollars there," she said. Companies keep the message alive, Tolliver explained, when they choose to acknowledge their advantages, commit to amplify black voices, and authentically support black businesses. And if brands choose not to write a statement, Tolliver said they should unschedule posts, ads, and other marketing promotions and amplify black businesses instead.
Step 2: Listen to your communityand understand its reachIt's important to understand your brand's audience and the customers looking to your company for guidance. "We're not just talking about one group of people. We're talking about a group of people that have supporters," Tolliver said.
Put simply: your followers have followers who have followers. Responding appropriately to current news events and injustice requires brands to shift their content schedule to address feedback and questions from followers. As an example, Tolliver cited the women's career community, Create & Cultivate, which initially made a
single Instagram post to address racismthen moved on to its usual content. Many of its followers expressed concerns that the brand didn't amplify more black voices or provide more resources. "Speaking out on social injustice has been a one-line type of approach," Tolliver said. "'We can move on and get back to business as usual.' But it's harmful."
A post shared by CREATE & CULTIVATE (@createcultivate) on May 29, 2020 at 5:59pm PDTMay 29, 2020 at 5:59pm PDT nine black female voices to followand launched more content throughout the week focused on black women, including workshops hosted by black entrepreneurs and experts.
Tolliver said that though the brand started off with a misstep, she applauded its swift action after feeling the pressure from its community. "If you feel comfortable collecting black dollars, you should become equally as comfortable ensuring that your platform is a safe space," she said.
Step 3: Don't get caught up in hashtag trendsOn Tuesday, many Instagram accounts posted a single black square with the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday to show solidarity for the black community. But this movement was originally intended to be #TheShowMustBePaused, a day for the music industry to recharge and hold itself accountable, according to
Vulture. Though many had good intentions, this fad backfired when Instagramers posted #BlackLivesMatter in their captions. This hashtag is usually used to post resources and updates from the Black Lives Matter movement, but by Tuesday morning, it was just full of black squares. Tolliver points out how companies can be ill-informed to only follow what's trending and not do their own research. Following a trend for the sake of appealing to your audience can come off as not genuine.
"It shows us a lack of empathy for the whole situation outside of injustice and inside our community. You don't value me," she said. For example, Tolliver said that wedding-planning software companydid not acknowledge support until followers including she and her friend — a wedding planner who uses the service — called the company out in Instagram comments.
Tolliver said the company deleted the comments, thenposted a black squarefor #BlackOutTuesday with a caption saying it was "muting all posts to amplify the voices of those hurting, ensuring that the loudest message on social media is that Black Lives Matter."
A screenshot of Tolliver's Instagram story when she called out Aisle Planner for not acknowledging the current events in the country.Courtesy of Tiffany TolliverTolliver said it seemed like the company was merely trying to win back support from their followers. "It was more discouraging to hear that they were attempting to stage support, which is something that I've also seen brands do, which is a huge no-no."
Aisle Planner later posted a series of statements to itsInstagram storyacknowledging the mistake and the steps they are now taking to show support and improve. Tolliver said this small step was a glimmer of hope and she urged them to create a plan to address and dismantle what she calls the systematic and oppressive issues within the company.
Step 4:Don't delete critical comments. It's OK if they make you uncomfortable.A screenshot of the Rising Tide Society's now-deleted Instagram post on which Tolliver called out the brand's failure to acknowledge events happening the across nation.
Courtesy of Tiffany TolliverTolliver said it's important for brands to inconvenience themselves and be willing to get some things wrong, with the understanding that it's about something much bigger than yourself. In a time of difficulty and confusion, there will be many unanswered questions, which requires vulnerability.
"Silence doesn't make you vulnerable because I can't see it," she said. Tolliver sat on the board of a creative community called theRising Tide Society for three months. Yet she didn't feel represented when the company remained silent on social media after George Floyd's death. So she called them out in a comment on one of their Instagram posts, which they then deleted.
The company has since posted in support of anti-racism and the BIPOC community, but Tolliver said that when people express their feelings in comments, a company's response should not be to delete them. "When you delete the posts, it makes me feel unseen," she said.
Step 5: Make a long-term planFinally, posting a message of solidarity, sending links to resources, and elevating black voices are only the beginning steps of an ongoing conversation brands should be having. Companies need to initiate substantial changes in their organizations and think of ways their impact can last through the coming weeks, months, and years.
In the case of Create & Cultivate, Tolliver said they have an opportunity to bring more diversity to their team and become more consistent in amplifying voices of color on their panels at events. The fact that many non-black owned and operated companies are just now asking these tough questions point to a larger flaw in their organizations: they haven't given people of color a seat at the decision-making table to begin with.
"They're flocking to these people in a state of panic, when a course of action could have been to amplify and authentically support black businesses in the first place," Tolliver said. SEE ALSO:3 steps to recession-proof your business, from the founders of a Miami coworking, event, and retail pop-up spaceRead more: Business Insider »
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