How Do You Build a Brand in the Cancel Culture Era?
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” -Warren Buffet
Cancel culture, the term used when someone has been ostracized from a social or professional circle, is not a new concept. It originated decades ago when a celebrity, oftentimes an actor or actress, broke the law. Consequently, their show, or at least their role, would be cancelled by their network and/or their advertising sponsors.
On an individual level, if someone was upset with a store or disappointed by a product, they would put the store on their ‘list‘ and vow to never return.
Cue social media providing a megaphone to the masses.
Now, people have the power to tell the world if they don’t like something that someone has done, but it’s no longer just celebrities that can be cancelled by an all powerful network studio or global advertiser after a being arrested.
But gone are the days of being innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. With the speed and power of social media, all it takes is one tweet or inappropriate meme for someone to get cancelled.
As John McDermott covered in his 2019 New York Times article, “Those People We Tried to Cancel? They’re All Hanging Out Together” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/02/style/what-is-cancel-culture.html?referringSource=articleShare) explained,
“The term for people who have been thrust out of social or professional circles in this way — either online or in the real world or sometimes both — is “canceled.”
There are varying degrees of cancellation. Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein and other men have been canceled for serial sexual assault or harassment; non-famous abusers and predatory media executives have been canceled as well.
The merely offensive (Roseanne Barr, Shane Gillis) are somewhere down the scale, adjacent to the provocative or clueless or callous (Dave Chappelle, Scarlett Johansson).
At the bottom end, cancellation consists of some mild, inconsequential criticism. On YouTube, vloggers cancel each other and even themselves with startling regularity, often for petty or invented grievances.“
He said, “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” Mr. Obama said. “You should get over that quickly.”
“The world is messy; there are ambiguities,” he continued. “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you.” Mr. Obama spoke repeatedly of the role of social media in activism specifically, including the idea of what’s become known as “cancel culture,” which is much remarked upon, but still nebulously defined. It tends to refer to behavior that mostly plays out on the internet when someone has said or done something to which others object. That person is then condemned in a flurry of social media posts. Such people are often referred to as “canceled,” a way of saying that many others (and perhaps the places at which they work) are fed up with them and will have no more to do with them. Mr. Obama talked about conversations he’s had with his daughter Malia, who is a student at Harvard with Ms. Shahidi.
“I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of: ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,’” he said, “and that’s enough.”
“Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb,” he said, “then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, cause, ‘Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out.’” Then he pretended to sit back and press the remote to turn on a television.
“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
But 2020 has brought a whole new level of activism around the ‘cancel culture’. These are just a few of the hundreds of examples during the past month.
If you Google ‘examples of cancel culture‘, you will literally find thousands of examples from this year alone. How do you avoid this same fate for yourself and your organization?
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Go through your social media profiles and look at old posts through today’s lens. Did you post something a decade ago that is no longer appropriate? Delete it. Delete it now.
- Know your company’s social media policy. Remember when you got to work on that first day and HR handed you that big packet of paperwork? Did you sign it without reading it thoroughly. Now is a great time to review the section on social media and really understand what you agreed to do, and more importantly not to do, on social media. It doesn’t matter if you do it on your own time, you are still representing your company. And that inappropriate meme that you just shared can get you fired.
- Always best to follow this sage advice. Consider before you post: Is is true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
- If you are wrong, apologize. We all make mistakes. If you do something that offends someone else, take the time to consider their feelings and learn how to provide an actual apology – be accountable for your actions and don’t make excuses.
You can’t make everyone happy, but know that when you make a stand for something, you are equally taking a stand against something else. With the division that exists today, think carefully about the ramifications of what you say and do. Otherwise, you might find yourself getting cancelled.
RUSSO is a strategic branding agency that uses consumer insight to change the conversation; forming emotional connections with the target audience. To learn more, click HERE to learn more about our process, RAZOR BRANDING.