Social impact & social media: How your brand can share updates that resonate

Blair Pettit, Associate Strategist

In this blog series, a member of the Khoros Strategic Services team dives into a topic they have helped many enterprise brands with, sharing insights and best practices. Khoros Strategic Services has deep expertise in community management, paid social, analytics, and content, and they're ready to help your brand.

2020 has proven to be an especially heavy year for many Americans — and people around the globe. Challenges abound, from COVID-19’s negative impact on so many people and beloved small businesses in our communities to the death of George Floyd and the call to address systemic racism amplified through the Black Lives Matter movement. But this year has also meant people and brands alike recognizing and acting on the urgent need to step up, give back, and do more.

With more fervor than ever before, we are seeing brands level up their diversity and inclusion initiatives, revamp their corporate social responsibility programs, make public statements against racism, increase their donations to nonprofits, find creative ways to support healthcare workers, and more. If your brand is one of those brands, we applaud you! While there will always be room for improvement in these efforts, it’s exciting to find ourselves in a movement where businesses of all different industries and sizes are looking to do more and do better.

This is a tricky time for brands looking to share their social impact updates. You may be asking yourself, “How do I share this in a way that isn’t virtue signaling?” or “How do I step up without getting called out?” These are fair concerns. We’ll cover some best practices that can help guide you as you seek to share the good work that your brand is doing across your social media channels.

1. Practice what you preach

Falling into performative marketing and virtue signaling are real concerns, especially now. In fact, a Ketchum research survey from June 2020 found that 89% of Americans believe some companies have taken advantage of the current social climate for marketing purposes. Furthermore, a study by Edelman found that 63% of Americans agree that brands and companies issuing statements in support of racial equality need to follow up with concrete action to avoid being seen as exploitive. So, while PR-approved statements and graphics can help get the conversation started, people want to see meaningful action from brands.

Take, for instance, the Tampa Bay Rays baseball organization. When choosing to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement on social media, they did more than just say they were standing with the Black community. They also committed $100,000 per year to support causes in the fight against systemic racism. While there was some pushback from their audience (claiming that “all lives matter” or that "politics don't have a place in baseball"), many fans praised the organization for its efforts. One of the top comments on their Instagram content states, “And what’s even better is that you’re taking action.” The Tampa Bay Rays didn’t stop there. After their pledge, they went to work and followed up seven weeks later with a tweet highlighting their new Racial Equity Grant Program and sharing their Social Justice Resource Guide:

One fan responded to this tweet saying, “Damn, now I gotta start rooting for the Tampa Bay Rays.” And honestly? Same here. Practicing what you preach goes a long way in building trust between your brand and your audience.

2. Aim for transparency and accountability

It’s one thing to say you’ll be listening and learning, “working on things,” and finding ways to better support your community. But it’s crucial that you demonstrate to your audience that your brand has taken concrete, positive action.

Reformation, a sustainably-made women’s clothing brand, shared a post on Instagram with a powerful caption:

In this post, the brand transparently outlined the current racial breakdown of their HQ employees (1% Black) and spoke to the goals, plans, and timelines they’ve implemented to actively address racial disparities. This post clearly mapped out their commitments in order to be held accountable by their audience, including notes such as, “Will add Black representation to our Leadership team in the next 6 months,” “Will work with more diverse creators, models, and partners,” and “Will publicly report the goals and metrics set up by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board every quarter.”

Reformation kept these promises; their Q2 Sustainability Report, published on Instagram the following month, including a new, expanded portion to include diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a consumer, I value Reformation’s transparency here as they show their audience where they’ve fallen short, their timeline for addressing their goals, and their long-term plans for taking action. Their statements invite conversation and accountability, not just for today, but for months and years to come.

3. Focus on the long-term

Temporary support has never been a good look. Unfortunately, we see this all too often during Pride month when brands launch limited-release rainbow apparel during June and then disappear for the rest of the year. So if you’re about to share an update about how your company is addressing social issues or giving back to the community, be sure to stop and ask yourself, “Am I just publishing this content to check a box in my content strategy?” If the answer is yes, then it’s time to take a step back — a big step back — and reassess how your brand can instead demonstrate a lasting commitment to change.

Sephora is a great example of a brand committing to making a long-term, positive impact. Sephora shared on Instagram that they were joining the 15% Pledge to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelf to Black-owned businesses:

This pledge doesn’t have an end date. It’s not a one-time campaign or dollar donation. It’s a long-term change for good, and they should feel proud about sharing their pledge with their audience.

4. Learn from your audience

It’s okay if your audience responds to your content with concerns, callouts, or suggestions for how you could’ve done better. Instead of viewing this type of response as a failure or thinking it would’ve been better to stay silent, view it as constructive feedback that offers a chance to improve and become a better, more impactful business. Share that feedback with your internal teams. Grow from it. Welcome it.

For example, Orangetheory Fitness received negative feedback from its audience on Instagram when they chose to enter the conversation with a rather general graphic that failed to specifically mention that “Black Lives Matter”:

The community shared frustrations that the post seemed like a vague, bandwagon statement, so Orangetheory tried again, leading their second post’s caption with “Sometimes words fail, and many let us know ours did. We agree. We want to get it right.”

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Sometimes words fail, and many let us know ours did. We agree. We want to get it right. Orangetheory was founded on the simple, yet powerful idea of bringing about positive change. Change from the inside out to help people live longer, more vibrant lives. Right now, we need change in the United States. We stand by you and share in the anger and grief felt by so many in the Black community over the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others who had their lives unjustly cut short. As a brand with such a powerful community, we can and will use our platform to be a champion of change. We have established a culturally diverse task force represented by franchisees and staff across our studios to listen, learn and act. We all have a responsibility to be part of the solution, because #blacklivesmatter.

A post shared by Orangetheory Fitness (@orangetheory) on

There will always be room to grow, and that’s okay. There’s no perfect way forward, but we have to start somewhere.

The specific brand strategies here aren’t comprehensive, and will certainly need to evolve, but we hope you find these overarching pointers helpful. Here at Khoros, we too realize there is so much more we can do as a business. Whether you’re just now kickstarting a CSR program, or you’re beefing up your existing social impact initiatives, we thank you for striving to make a difference in our society today. In a recent letter from our CEO we announced our Khoros Social Responsibility (KSR) Program, in which we will be offering our software and services to women-owned and minority-owned businesses and nonprofits that do not currently have the capacity to invest in our offerings. We will be sharing our progress, impact, and learnings with our audience over the coming months (and years!) — and of course we welcome constructive feedback along the way. Let’s continue to strive for a positive social impact in our communities and use our businesses as forces for good.

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