After Sean Hannity made controversial comments about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore during his Fox News talk show, many brands—like Keurig, Reddi-wip, and Volvo—were quick to tweet that they’d be pulling ads from the program. In many ways, it’s a familiar story: brands don’t want to be seen endorsing contentious opinions, and they’ll make quick moves to avoid alienating consumers.
Some of these tweets have either been clarified or deleted as brands back down from their initial claims. Volvo, for example, tweeted, "We have spoken with our media agency and have advised them to cease advertising on the show," but later deleted the post. Unsurprisingly, this angered many consumers on both sides of the issue.
While some brands might take this as a cue to shy away from political conversations, which can sometimes be wise, silence can be deafening for many consumers, especially as millennials demand socially responsible marketing practices. But that doesn’t mean you need to accept a "damned if you do, damned if you don’t" mentality. Here’s what you can learn from the latest controversy:
Listen before you speak
Brands can avoid many PR gaffes, on social media or otherwise, if they actually listen to what their customers are saying. Social media should be the first place marketers turn to when discovering consumer sentiment, especially since those platforms offer diverse perspectives in real-time. This is a must-have during today’s vicious news cycle, when stories and consumer reactions break simultaneously.
That doesn’t mean you need to respond immediately. You need an organized plan of attack to use consumer sentiment to inform a thoughtful response. Considering the massive amount of content on social media, briefly glancing through a social media management feed isn’t enough anymore. Instead, brands need a data-based, strategic method for mining insights quickly and acting on them accordingly.
If you make a political statement, commit and connect
Volvo’s tweet was widely circulated before it was unceremoniously deleted, and people noticed. Unfortunately for brands caught in this situation, you can’t just delete a tweet and walk away. If you have a big following, your tweets have made impressions. And if you’re using social listening tools correctly, you’ll see just how many impressions, shares, and comments you’ve gathered the second your tweet gets posted.
If you weigh in on a political conversation, stand your ground. Brands that are hypocritical or wavering will only anger everyone on both sides of the issue. If something changes, don’t sweep things under the rug. Be transparent and honest, and move on.
It’s difficult to please everyone on social media. In Keurig’s case, some consumers supported the decision to withdraw advertising, while others filmed videos of themselves destroying Keurig coffee makers. You can’t win everyone over all of the time, but a moment like this is a great opportunity to connect with individual consumers and show who you are as a brand.
Look at the tweets from outspoken critics that are getting the most engagement and respond either publicly or via direct message. Respectful, personal dialogue on social media can go a long way and improve your brand’s relationships with consumers, even if they don’t always agree with everything you post.
Eliminate silos when it comes to social media
The missteps made in this situation stem largely from internal communication errors. Clearly, social media marketers spoke too soon without clear understanding of internal policies. Even in the case of Keurig, a brand that didn’t back down, business leaders from these brands expressed dissatisfaction that the decision was announced via tweet. This speaks to a larger problem with social media: it is often viewed as just a function of the marketing department.
It’s critical to eliminate departmental silos when it comes to social media. Many teams within an organization, from research to HR to development, use social media insights to inform strategy—or at least, should be using them. With this in mind, keeping all employees in the loop about social best practices and restrictions and maintaining an open line of communication between marketing and other departments is essential.
It can be difficult for brands to understand their place in today’s heated and rapidly unfolding political conversation, and it’s not always an option to bow out entirely.
It can be difficult for brands to understand what their place is among today’s heated and rapidly unfolding political conversations, and it’s not always an option to bow out entirely. Social media is the best way to understand and connect with consumers: but only if you’re able to source and analyze insights using effective social listening strategies. If you can’t listen to your consumers, you can’t speak to them.
Paul Vivant is CEO of Digimind.