Social listening for greater impact

This content originally appeared June 4, 2020 as part of the Future of Marketing weekly email series. Subscribe here.

Reflect. Empathize. Act. 

Brands should always respond with empathy and care, but especially during times of turmoil, as their actions will define them for decades to come.

Marketing leaders across Twitter are advising brands to halt pre-scheduled content and ad campaigns to help amplify the voice of underrepresented communities. “Now is not the time to be silent, neither is it the time to jump on a bandwagon,” The Drum shares, “It’s a time for real reflection and care with regards to how a brand and its leaders stand by the black community… and move forward with real steps to end racism and injustice globally.” 

Brands should think with their heart rather than their mind, and make a genuine effort to understand the world’s state and global sentiment. Companies must also be wary of posting tone-deaf content that could motivate a brand-damaging backlash from the public – and use this time to find themselves. 

Read the room before you post.

Understanding the global sentiment

Sunday, May 31st, 2020 was the saddest day ever recorded on Twitter. “There are these big dips when a celebrity dies or there’s a natural disaster or a mass shooting,” states researcher Chris Danforth, “But there’s never, in the entire history of our instrument, been a sustained sadness like we’ve been seeing.”

While social media monitoring tracks mentions and engagement, social listening looks beyond numbers and analyzes the emotions taking place – using empathy to guide communication strategies. By understanding sentiment, brands can refrain from sharing thoughtless messaging on social media – and approach volatile situations more carefully.

With citizens of London, Paris, Berlin, and many nations joining the protests against racial discrimination – this demonstrates the call for protection goes far beyond one group of people and expands globally. In fact, social media users are openly calling out brands and people who appear inauthentic or misaligned. 

Pay attention to the conversations taking place on different platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and even TikTok to understand the global sentiment. What you see on one platform may not necessarily offer the same content (and context) as the other.

Tone-deaf is not an option

Brands have taken a stance – setting strong expectations for marketers and people around the world. Inclusivity and community have never been as important as they are today – and moving forward, consumers will be more selective about the brands they choose to support.

After last weekend’s protests, Nike immediately released an unexpected (yet appropriate) ad spinning their iconic slogan, “For once, don’t do it.” The message was simple and so powerful that Adidas retweeted Nike’s ad, setting differences aside to support a greater cause. Fierce competition has its place – but when it comes down to human values, we are all in.

Nickelodeon surprised the world when it went off-air for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to tribute George Floyd – stirring controversy about the conversations parents should be having with children. Nickelodeon also included a “Declaration of kids’ rights” with reminders to young people about their right to protection, peace, equality, and education.

Meanwhile, Twitter shared resources and updated their profile to support the movement. Netflix tweeted that silence is complacency. And YouTube pledged $1M to support efforts addressing social injustice.

This isn’t your typical marketing ploy or sales opportunity; this is a global movement fighting for equality and protection – and those with a voice cannot afford to be silent. Distribute important resources, make a donation, hire, buy from, or share the work of minorities, implement internal policies – do something. But don’t be a brand that jumps on the bandwagon just to make noise – people will easily see through it. Be intentional. Be authentic.

Talk is cheap – take action

Most brands mitigate conflict – especially during polarized times. Marketers fear offending customers and affiliating their brands with sensitive topics, but times have changed. To build brand loyalty among customers and rising generations, leaders are realizing the importance of speaking up against societal injustices and hiring for empathy

Ben & Jerry’s is famous for advocating #BlackLivesMatter and standing up against social issues. The ice cream maker even highlights its independent board of directors on its website, including leaders with robust backgrounds in civil rights, healthcare, and education. The board holds brand leaders accountable, “preserving and expanding Ben & Jerry’s social mission, brand integrity, and product quality by providing social mission-mindful insight and guidance.”

Millions of people around the world united for #BlackoutTuesday, as black squares filled social feeds everywhere to help amplify important resources from the black community. While there was initial confusion around which hashtag to use – social media users immediately set the record straight, bringing the community closer together in real-time for a powerful cause. 

With expectations on the rise, consumers around the world are demanding to know the true intentions of the brands they support – and user-generated content will be at the forefront, helping marketers and consumers make more informed decisions.

Brooks Running

Brooks Running demonstrates they are in tune with global issues and aren’t afraid to let people know it. As a response to COVID-19, Brooks Running donated 45,000 pairs of shoes to frontline workers around the world, and their CEO, Jim Webber, also shared a public letter that was posted on their website to address the brand’s shift. 

Today, Brooks Running is speaking up against societal injustices across its digital platforms, joining #BlackoutTuesday, and unapologetically sharing its stance on the topic.

Brooks Running is also recognizing Global Running Day on their website as a day to unite “in pursuit of a world where we all run on equal ground.” Brooks Running is donating $100,000 to the Equal Justice Initiative as a step towards pursuing equality, criminal justice reform, and education. The athletic brand will give an additional $1 for every person who signs up to run between June 3 and June 7 (up to $250,000).