Activism on social media: is silence really golden?

Activism on social media: is silence really golden?

Door Salony Saxena
Taking a stand is very 2019. Of course, how could it not be? We are living in the age of Trump, burning rainforests and #MeToo. But what happens when brands start taking a stand, especially on social media? Is it in your best interest as a brand to speak out or is it best to just stay silent?

Nowadays, people are looking for more responsibility, action, and accountability – not only from politicians but also from brands. This is especially true for the millennial generation (a group with significant purchasing power!). According to research, 74% of millennials feel that more brands should take public stands on important social values. Even better, 52% would actually spend more money on a brand that aligns with their values. 


While those numbers sound nice on paper, you might wonder if it pays off to take a stand in real life. Well, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t – but what’s the key to success?


Burning sneakers are a good thing?

The success of social media activism is open for interpretation. Just look at Nike running ads featuring Colin Kaepernick, which lead to some people actually burning their sneakers. However, among the company’s target audience, people aged 18 to 34, there was a high approval rate of the ad campaign, there was a spike in sales (after an initial drop) and it reconfirmed Nike’s image as edgy and progressive. Not bad, right?



When followers aren’t everything

Another interesting case is Diesel, celebrating Pride Week on social media. Their measure of success? Losing 14.000 followers on Instagram. Instead of a full-scale meltdown in their marketing department, they actually celebrated it with an Instagram post. According to Diesel: “(…) followers are important. But love is more important.” It’s all about perspective, right?



Just be careful… 

Deliberately losing followers when it’s part of a disruptive marketing strategy, is one thing. Actually outraging consumers is another thing. We don’t need to remind you of Pepsi’s disastrous protest ad with Kendall Jenner. With widespread condemnation on social media and calls to boycott the soft drink company, Pepsi was forced to apologize. Surfing along on the activism wave didn’t pay off, we’d say… 


The key takeaway from the above? If you’re going to speak out as a brand, don’t just do it for the likes – especially since chances are high you’re going to get angry comments instead. Only do it if you actually believe in the cause you’re representing and if you’re ready to face the consequences (from losing followers to burning merchandise). And when you truly know your audience and what matters to them, the consequences might just not be so bad!


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