In the age of social media, cancel culture has become an influential force that can make or break a brand’s reputation in a matter of hours. It is fuelled by public outrage and has the ability to hold companies and individuals responsible for their actions and decisions. Although some people argue that this phenomenon can create a positive societal impact, avoiding being targeted by it presents a real challenge for brands.
Understanding Cancel Culture
Cancel culture is a form of online activism where individuals or groups publicly criticise a person, brand, or organisation due to something they have said or done that is perceived to be offensive. This criticism can be followed by widespread public condemnation and even boycotting. It often spreads rapidly on social media platforms, where hashtags, viral posts and trending posts can amplify the message.
Cancel culture is a complex issue that has attracted extreme viewpoints, both positive and negative. Some argue that the purpose of cancel culture is to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions, but others feel it can incite a mob mentality and lead to consequences that are disproportionate. Some individuals believe that it gives minority groups a voice and the opportunity to challenge the behaviour of the powerful, while others argue that it is being used as a weapon to undermine the principles of free speech and to force others to conform to specific viewpoints and behaviours.
Why Cancel Culture matters to brands
Brands today are acutely aware of the power and influence of social media and invest heavily in building their online presence and cultivating a positive image. Cancel culture poses a significant threat because it can tarnish a brand’s reputation, leading to financial losses and long-term damage. For example, it can erode trust among customers and stakeholders and they may choose to transfer their loyalty to competitors with reputations and ethics more aligned with their own instead. In addition, employees are often associated with the brands they work for so if a brand is ‘cancelled’ it can affect their morale and retention. Navigating the potential consequences of cancel culture can be particularly daunting. The speed at which information spreads on social media can leave little time for a thoughtful response, making it easy for a situation to spiral out of control.
How brands can avoid being ‘cancelled’
1. Develop a set of brand values and ethics to base communication and internal strategies on. Be proactive in fostering a culture of inclusivity, diversity, and sensitivity within the organisation. Ensure employees are educated on diversity, inclusivity, microaggressions and discrimination.
2. Monitor conversations surrounding societal issues in the media and keep a close eye on the emergence of new issues that matter to the public. Keep track of mentions and conversations related to your brand as being aware of potential issues before they escalate can help you to react swiftly.
3. Vet influencers and brands before partnership and have several stages of approval for all content and campaigns. Only work with influencers or partners who share the same values and ethics as your organisation.
4. In the event of a crisis, respond promptly and thoughtfully. Acknowledge mistakes authentically, show empathy, and outline concrete steps for improvement. This is where having a PR agency can be crucial due to their expertise in managing media relations, crafting strategic messages, and navigating complex situations. They can provide a professional, swift, and coordinated response to protect a brand’s reputation, minimize damage, and ensure effective communication during challenging times.
5. Engage in meaningful dialogue with customers and critics to help defuse tensions. Listen to feedback and consider making necessary changes.
6. Brands can build a loyal and supportive pool of consumers who can become invaluable during times of crisis as they may help defend the brand’s reputation and continue to support them.
Cancel culture is a complex force in today’s digital PR landscape and brands must tread carefully and be proactive to avoid being affected by it. By prioritising ethical conduct, engaging with online communities, and responding thoughtfully and quickly to crises, a brand’s reputation can be more effectively protected.