Handling Apologies and Politically-Charged Situations

Expectations of consumers have dramatically changed over the years. Consumers now expect brands to take a stand on social and political issues. Research conducted by Edelman shows two-thirds of consumers now buy a product or boycott a brand based solely on its position on issues.

If that sounds like a shocking percentage, take a moment to think about all the brands that have been criticized lately. People are ready to drag a brand through the mud or praise them on social media depending on their take on issues and how they handle challenges.

This begs the question: How can we as communicators best help brands navigate this charged atmosphere? To answer that question, IABC Minnesota hosted a panel discussion featuring Jennifer Hellman, COO, Goff Public, and Matt Zabel, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Risk, Target.

Here are our team’s top takeaways from the event:

Art of the Apology

These days, an organization has a short time to react when something goes wrong. People hold organizations to a high standard and when a situation arises that puts an organization in a bad light, it can blow up in a matter of minutes on social media.

To avoid continuous backlash, it is essential for organizations to know when and how to apologize. The panel shared great advice for any organization that needs to apologize for something: Do it once and do it right.

When an organization only addresses the situation internally or gives a half apology, it can extend the criticism from the public and continue to impact an organization’s image and credibility. One example of an apology gone wrong is H&M’s “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” sweatshirt.

When the racist undertones of the sweatshirt were called out on social media, H&M distributed a “half apology” and stated that the sweatshirts would be removed from U.S. stores, but would continue to sell in other markets. After continued criticism from the public, they eventually removed the sweatshirts from all stores and issued a stronger, more genuine apology for the situation.

Chiming In

Although brands are now expected to take a stand on social and political issues, the key is to be selective about which issues to pursue. It’s unrealistic to expect brands to react to every cause and hot topic.

It’s a balancing act between taking a stand and not taking a stand. Both options can be risky. Which is why being selective is essential. This means taking a hard look at the values that drive a brand’s services and products and ensuring those values align with the issue the brand wants to speak on. It’s equally important for brands to know their target audience. If their audience cares, so should they.

Personal vs. Professional

“All thoughts are my own.” We’ve all seen it in the description of a social media profile, but what does it mean? In short, not much. These days, the line between personal life and professional life has blurred to the point of nonexistence. This is especially true for people in upper management positions, such as CEOs. When someone is in a higher position, every move they make and every comment they post on social media is linked to the company they work for and open for scrutiny by the public.

However, organizations can’t dictate what a person posts or engages with on social media. The best course of action for an organization is to create a social media policy. This policy can highlight what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior on the organization’s social channels and explain that inappropriate posts that link a person to the organization are also considered a violation of the social media policy.