Published: 31 January 2017
One important rule of brand communication & Social Media is not to get political. You see it all the time on LinkedIn: A Pulse article here and there might be speaking about trade or the economy, but if it has a slight criticism of a political leader included, the comments section will likely include something like this:
“Stick to ____ and keep the politics OUT OF IT! LinkedIn is for business!”
Pardon me for slightly breaking this rule, by the way.
People can be told that they’re doing something wrong in their business with an open mind and a desire to learn. That’s a given. Hell, that’s what the entire Consultancy industry is founded upon. But when it comes to politics, any sort of criticism or thoughtful expression can be considered a personal sleight. This is because personal beliefs inform political views, and so they far are more important than the way we conduct ourselves at work. Virtually every brand knows this, and so avoids making political statements.
… Most of the time.
The days since January 20th have seen many well-established brands take a big stand against the new administration, some in relatively harmless, jovial ways that are largely beneficial, but the recent Muslim ban has seen something much bigger and more volatile.
As I write this, #BoycottStarbucks is currently trending at 50.6k, after their recent denouncement of this week’s chaos (and pledge to hire 10,000 refugees), breaking that oh-so-important rule and sending many of their customers into a 140-character-long fury.
On the other hand, the pledge has caused a similarly huge outpouring of support for the brand.
Starbucks isn’t alone. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter/Periscope, Apple, Netflix have made their feelings known to the world, joining a huge list of smaller brands from around the world. If you ask me, that takes far more #courage than removing a headphone jack.
If you’re not going to be making a statement with your own brand, you still need to be mindful of one very important caveat to all of this: Inaction is considered to be a political statement too, as Uber discovered a few days ago. The taxi-but-not-a-taxi service recently continued serving customers from JFK airport, which created a contrast against the NYC taxi drivers who refused to serve the hub, in protest. Cue #DeleteUber (trending at 45k at the time of writing). If Uber weren’t intending to make a statement and simply decided to continue business as usual, it doesn’t matter. It has caused a backlash amongst its userbase, and the lesson is simple: Be mindful, and be considerate of how simple decisions may be interpreted as inaction, or compliance with a political agenda.
Social Media changed the way we communicate with our customers, but this trend is something entirely new to me, and the only answer I can offer is this: 2016 saw political strategy undergo an enormous upheaval, utilising very unconventional and inflammatory methods… with huge success. Perhaps this means that the way brands communicate is changing too – possibly forever.
(As I finish writing, #BoycottStarbucks is now at 82k).