What are brands supposed to do the when the social media conversation turns sour?
If the current landscape has taught us anything, it’s that change—and sometimes chaos—is constant. The social chatter in our feeds can be particularly polarizing. It can feel scary to jump in…and even scarier to stay silent!
So, how do you know when (as a brand) to remain silent or push ahead with your social media conversation strategy?
First, to truly understand when to speak up and when to remain silent, you must be intimately familiar with your voice of customer data (VOC). VOC is measured by how people interact with your brand. It’s crucial to your social media conversation strategy.
There are many ways in which you can use data to better understand your VOC, including:
- Customer surveys
- Social media listening tools
- NPS or other customer scoring tools
- Touchpoints & conversations throughout your customers’ digital journey
Basically, when you set out to discover the wants, needs, and desires of your customers through qualitative and quantitative research through any of the methods above (or beyond), that’s looking at the VOC.
And when you know your brand’s VOC data, you can better understand when silence on social media is golden (and when it’s not). Above all, I like to inform my own brand decisions based on what my VOC data is telling me.
- If the current crisis or cause is important to our brand values and the customer, we’ll find a way to support it
- When the data shows it’s important to the customer but not necessarily one of our brand values, we take pause
- If the current crisis or cause is not important to our customers or our brand values, we likely go on with a “business as usual” mindset
Granted, when something happens that affects the U.S. or the globe catastrophically, we often go silent out of respect. An example of this is when the war in the Ukraine broke out; we paused all our social content for the better part of a week.
Inevitably, there are times when your brand’s social media strategy will gain the most by saying something. I find this to be especially true when a trending topic or theme fits in perfectly with your core brand values.
Patagonia has a superb example of this. Around six months ago they posted to their social media channels that they would not be using Facebook as a platform for their brand advertising.
They said, in part, “Patagonia stopped all paid advertising on Facebook platforms in June 2020 because they spread hate speech and misinformation about climate change and our democracy. We continue to stand by that boycott 16 months later.”
Patagonia frequently talks about climate change, which undoubtedly their target audiences also support with vigor. Patagonia is an outdoors apparel and equipment brand, and I would guess that many their customers are strong believers of climate change.
So, while this is an opinion—and a strong one—it might not be that risky for Patagonia to speak up. Furthermore, since their product is arguably impacted by climate change, it aligns with the brand core values.
I know speaking up can seem hair-raising. However, humans connect by aligning core values with one another—yes, even as consumers to brands. Consumers are looking to give loyalty to brands who share the same opinions and feelings as they do. We’re an extremely polarized nation, and that’s no different in business and marketing.
As I mentioned, taking pause is sometimes the perfect path to take. Aligning your brand values with that of your audiences—potential customers, current customers, communities & advocates, employees, etc.—requires deliberate effort. I say “deliberate” because a few years back we saw what happens when brands say they’re committed to a cause but can’t back it up.
For instance, during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of 2020, many brands jumped on the bandwagon of supporting the BLM movement. And this was a beautiful thing! However, for the brands who were simply posturing, their posts weren’t received well by the community at large.
These days, communities are looking to align with brands who share the same core values as they do. But they are also looking for action, not words or empty promises. So, when some brands aligned themselves with the BLM cause, a few caught backlash for posting words with no real actions tied to them.
Some people call this posturing or woke-washing. For example, when brands use the appearance of being socially consciousness about a cause, but don’t have any programs in place to support that cause.
Conversations about race and equality will continue to take place on social media. As will politics, the labor market, environmental causes, and social justice issues. If your brand values don’t already align with one of these areas, you may want to stay silent.
Or, at the very least, take a beat to figure out how you can support the case and take action to show you mean it.
Finally, how do brands know when to go silent on social media? Let’s first look at the consequences going silent. Because of the way the algorithms work, when you chose not to post, you can get “dinged” by a platform.
- If you’re totally silent, you’re not being seen
- Your metrics (for example, engagement and content volume) will drop during a pause
- It may take a ramp up period to get back to where you were before the pause
However, as with all things, we need to look at the positive things that come from going silent for a period.
- Not coming across as insensitive is obviously a good thing!
- If you’re not posting as usual, but posting critical messages during a crisis, they’ll take precedence over “regular” content
- If you use social listening, you can measure audience sentiment on the topic you want to talk about (or go silent on)
In my opinion, we don’t put enough stock into being silent on social media. As I said earlier, if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes silence truly is golden.
Not only does a pause allow you to assess the current situation and voice of the customer data, but it can also help you find a path forward for sensitive topics.
No one can tell you what the best social media conversation strategy will be for your brand. However, a surefire way to get it right means:
- Knowing your core brand values (and sticking to them)
- Understanding voice of the customer data
When you combine those two areas—both the data and the desires (opinions, feelings, attitudes, beliefs)—you will not find it difficult to decide when to speak up and when to say silent.
Brooke B. Sellas @brooke1
Brooke B. Sellas is the CEO of B Squared Media, LLC