How to Avoid Getting “Cancelled”

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Four PR and marketing tips to keep your organization out of harm’s way.

Cancel Culture society concept or cultural cancellation and social media censorship as canceling or restricting opinions that are offensive or controversial to the publicCancel Culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive,” according to Dictionary.com. “Cancel Culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”

On the positive side, Cancel Culture introduced social movements like “#MeToo” and continues to give a voice to underrepresented individuals or communities, and spotlights people or organizations that are committing inappropriate, unethical and/or illegal behavior.

However, Cancel Culture can also be overused and assign punishment to individuals or organizations without any due process and with little or no opportunity for recovery. Once someone or something is “cancelled,” it’s difficult to bounce back – both personally and professionally.

However you feel about the term – whether you think it’s cliched, appropriate or somewhere in the middle – if you’re connected to a brand or an organization in any way, it’s important to be aware of Cancel Culture. Otherwise, you run the risk of you, or your brand, being cancelled.

Here are four tips to help avoid Cancel Culture:

1. Actions speak louder than words.

An organization’s values can speak volumes about its culture and what it stands for (or against). Many consumers even base their purchases on a brand’s stated values. Sixty-five percent of consumers report making purchasing decisions on the words, values and actions of company leaders.

As appropriate, find opportunities to tout your brand’s values in both internal and external marketing activities. And skip opportunities that don’t match your values, including partnerships with influencers or other organizations that don’t align with your standards.

2. Create and implement company-wide policies that incorporate your values.

In addition to educating your employees and internal stakeholders about your values, be sure you have policies in place that set expectations for the conduct of everyone in your organization. This applies not only to those who speak or post content publicly on the organization’s behalf, but any employee who posts on social media. We’re seeing frequent examples of employees posting hate speech off hours on their personal pages and employers choosing to discipline them, or being pressured to do so. Create social media policies that explain to your employees that they represent the company, even after hours, and clarify consequences for those who post negative or harmful content or take part in criminal behavior.

3. Watch your partnerships.

When deciding on brand partners, certain misgivings about a potential partner’s past may seem obvious – things like lengthy criminal records are likely dealbreakers. It’s important to do your research before you engage with a partner – whether that’s with influencers, other organizations, a moms’ group or a local retailer. Do a thorough Google search and closely review social media content to ensure it’s a good match with your brand’s values. Then, set up Google alerts or coverage alerts (if using a monitoring service) so you’re alerted of any new negative behavior in real time.

A popular beauty product retailer hired an influencer to create content on their behalf but didn’t realize that she had made divisive comments about a recent violent event. By the time the influencer posted the sponsored content, the company received so much backlash and calls to be cancelled that within a few hours of approving the influencer’s content, they had to ask her to take it down. The company then apologized and immediately, publicly ended the partnership. If you’re seeking a paid partnership with anyone, be sure you have a contract in place – ideally drafted by a legal professional – so all expectations and roles are clear. A professional will make sure you have tools like morality clauses in place to protect your brand if things go awry.   

4. Don’t be clueless: Stay up to date on pop culture and current events.

You may recall that at the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement in summer 2020, brands that did not take a stand and lend support were called out for their complacency. This quickly led to the creation of public lists of organizations that didn’t participate and should therefore be cancelled.

It’s hard to believe those brands didn’t realize that the movement was happening, or perhaps they were just tone deaf. That is why it’s important for someone on your team to spend time on social media actively listening to current events and trending topics. They should be up to date on news happening within your industry and with your competitors – but also in the larger world around you, with influencers with whom you partner and within the local markets you reach. Regularly take a look at popular hashtags and use these to help you stay relevant. Also, notice which brands are being “cancelled” so you can learn from – and avoid – their mistakes.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible your brand gets cancelled anyway (maybe due to a rogue employee or a product launch gone awry). If you take some of these steps and prepare your organization and your team, you’ll proactively eliminate some risk.

Crises are a bad time to learn on the job. If you find yourself unsure of where to start and need help with crisis communications, The Agency at Sikich has a long history of helping organizations manage a crisis – whether it’s being cancelled, dealing with negative social media comments, dealing with recalls, you name it. We’re here to help.

If you missed our webinar on tips to prevent Cancel Culture, download the recording here!

This publication contains general information only and Sikich is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or any other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should you use it as a basis for any decision, action or omission that may affect you or your business. Before making any decision, taking any action or omitting an action that may affect you or your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. You acknowledge that Sikich shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by you or any person who relies on this publication.

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