The fight for brand loyalty is increasingly taking place on social media – with stories of negative and positive experiences amplified globally, and peer opinions about business practices there for all to see. But winning this fight is not about tactical responses, it’s about strategically taking control of perception – by forming and living up to a compelling, authentic story that puts your business in the best light.
Having a presence on social media is no longer a choice, it is an integral part of establishing your brand voice. And it is quickly becoming the most powerful lever to pull when it comes to building brand loyalty, community and a conversation with your audiences.
At the same time social media has given birth to ‘cancel culture’ – where people use social media platforms to collectively condemn the actions of a person, celebrity or brand. And this can culminate in a widespread boycott, impact sentiment – and, ultimately, your bottom line. For example, last year HSBC was put under fire by ‘Brandalism’ groups for ‘woke-washing’ while investing heavily in fossil fuels, and US fitness brands Equinox and SoulCycle experienced a collective loss of memberships after their CEO organised a fundraiser for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
2020 pulled the curtain back on a whole host of social issues, and encouraged customers to expect more from the brands they interact with, and made it acceptable to call out the shortcomings of corporations.
Why does this matter?
Being aware of ‘cancel culture’ in the corporate world matters for three reasons – and they’re all to do with brand purpose.
- Companies start to play it safe
Public opinion expressed on social media is generally divisive. On one side, there are those who feel empowered by the voice that these channels give them to influence and hold companies accountable. The fear of being ‘cancelled’, could be persuading companies to be more intentional about their CSR activity and more purpose-driven measures. Equally, this fear could stop them from doing anything at all. However, there is also the danger of being seen to be ‘woke-washing’ and in trying to do good, actually suffering a backlash, as consumers are often cynical of those brands who can’t back up their messaging with measurable, positive action.
- Navigating out of being ‘cancelled’ with purpose
Although it sounds finite, it is possible to come back from being ‘cancelled’. The finality of the term itself is actually somewhat misleading. In fact, nearly four-in-10 (38%) of Americans would ‘cancel’ a company so that the organisation changes its ways, not so that it ceases to operate altogether.What is crucial to remember is your purpose is paramount. When asked to name measures companies could take to rectify their mistakes, respondents referenced a handful of acts driven by purpose, like making a public apology or creating programmes and policies internally to address the issue. Being cancelled could turn out to be an opportunity to prove your commitment to your purpose by communicating and, crucially, backing up your corporate purpose with action, all while you are in the spotlight.
- Let your purpose shine through
The way I see it, the best possible outcome is not winning a war against your customers on social media after you’ve made a mistake, it’s about avoiding that mistake in the first place.If your company already expertly owns its own perception and communicates this effectively to its audiences, with purpose, authenticity and honesty, the threat of negative feedback diminishes as the strength of your position will give you leeway with your audience. If you are transparent and communicative from the outset, you name your own shortcomings and how you plan on addressing them – you are holding yourself accountable. Be one step ahead. Don’t be complacent, and you can stay in control of the conversation around your brand.
- Companies start to play it safe
Where do you start?
Now is the time to anticipate and take ownership of your brand perception by establishing and embedding an authentic corporate purpose. This will then act as your north star – guiding you through, and away, from trouble.
If you do find yourself under the glare of the spotlight, your corporate purpose can guide your response. Admit your mistakes, publicly, and evidence how you plan to rectify and mitigate what happened with purpose-driven measures. And don’t let these slip away over time. You have to continue to hold yourself accountable or you know the public will.
For more information on how you can use use purpose to control your perception, get in touch. We’d love to support you on your journey.