Adweek recently published an article titled “Branding Social Etiquette in the Age of Trump” that discusses how social media etiquette has changed with Trump in office. “Under a Donald Trump presidency, political conversations are trending on Twitter,” writes Jenny Wolfram. She mentions that even when businesses want no part of it, they are coerced into discussion on politics by consumers as the public looks to companies and brands to pick sides.
There’s just not much room for error on social media these days. As Wolfram puts it, “One wrong step can lead to a mass consumer boycott or a plummeting stock value.” Pepsi provided a perfect example of this that really encompassed the current state of social media, when they launched their tone-deaf “Live Bolder” campaign featuring Kendall Jenner ending a political protest by offering a Pepsi as a token of peace to police officers. All it takes is a few individuals to find something wrong with a brand’s message, which many did with the Pepsi campaign. Within hours, word can spread like wildfire and everyone logged into any of the major social media sites will have been exposed to and can often add to the backlash.
The bad news is that there’s no surefire way for a company to prevent criticism from the public, no matter what political or socially relevant or responsible messages they choose to make. There are, however, ways to prevent a complete brand meltdown when criticism occurs. In the case of Pepsi, apologizing quickly and getting back to business worked, since the company has a pre-established respected, recognizable brand.
But the most effective tool for any company when wading into online activism is actually creating a campaign that opens up dialogue and reflects political conversations in a nuanced and informed way. This means avoiding pitfalls by bringing the right people to the table and “screen-testing” social messaging and online political campaigns with a diverse group – or better yet, creating diverse teams to work on them. As we saw in Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” campaign, in which people with differing viewpoints were brought together to share their thoughts and bridge their differences over a bottle of beer, brands can certainly be both effective and retain their customer base when wading into political issues.