Cancel culture took center stage this summer, but it’s roots extend back several years if not decades. One of the earliest instances I can remember dates back to 2002 when Mississippi Senator Trent Lott resigned after coming under fire due to his comments at the 100th birthday party of segregationist Strom Thurmond. We didn’t call it “canceled” back then, but the sentiments were the same.
In the years since, entertainers including Bill Cosby, Paula Deen, and even a local cupcake chain suffered from calls to the public to withdraw support. But it wasn’t until more recently the movement earned the title “cancel culture.” The term refers to efforts to discredit and ruin a business, organization, or person whose ideologies run counter to public opinion. Canceling involves removing financial support from and shaming the person or business online. The efforts can invoke permanent damage to a company or person’s reputation and sometimes extend to personal harassment.
We think of national brands, celebrities, politicians, and historical figures when someone mentions cancel culture, but small and mid-sized local businesses and individuals also find themselves at the mercy of the movement.
The best defense for cancel culture is a good offense. Don’t wait until angry customers bomb your social media pages with negative reviews to create a crisis communication plan. Think through these steps now to be prepared to survive and thrive through a crisis.
Stop and Listen.
Whether it’s one negative review or one-thousand, listening is the hardest but most important part. Why is the customer really upset? Is their anger about a perceived wrong or did your company do something wrong? The initial complaint isn’t always the root of the problem. Before responding in the heat of the moment, listen. Many times people simply want to be heard.
You don’t have to wait until you receive multiple negative reviews to hear the rumbles of a problem. Set Google Alerts to notify you anytime someone mentions your name or your company’s name online. Claim your Google My Business page so you have immediate access to any reviews on Google about your business. Use a social media management tool like Hootsuite to monitor what people are saying about you and your company online.
If you’re listening now, you’ll recognize the early signs of a problem so you can course-correct early.
Identify Your Target Audience
Your target audience plays a key role in your marketing strategy. It comes into play here as well. If the complaints come from your customers or your prospective customers, pay close attention to the complaints. One business owner received a complaint from a social media follower who declared they’d never spend money with this business again. Truthfully this person hadn’t ever done business with the company so the complaint landed on deaf ears.
We’re not saying to ignore complaints from non-customers. Well-founded problems should be heard. But before you rebrand your company, identify whether or not the complaint is doing any real damage. Without receiving a response, many trolls will move on in thirty-days and your loyal customers who really matter will remain with you.
Correct the Problem
Accountability strengthens our business. When you have a real problem, even if you didn’t recognize it before, don’t ignore the comments. If you’re receiving multiple complaints about the tone of a tweet or your receptionist’s attitude, it’s time to look further into the situation. Issuing a press release with zero intentions of correcting the real problem makes it worse instead of better. Consider what changes have to be made in order to serve your customers better.
Take the Concerns Offline
We’ve said for years, and research Harvard Business Review backs us up, that the best way to stop complaints from spreading is to offer an offline solution. Do not argue or attempt to defend yourself online. You won’t win. Offer the person with a complaint or negative review an opportunity to speak with a live person on your team. Not only will it offer your business an opportunity to make the situation right, but your customers and prospects will see that you care enough to pay attention.
Build Brand Loyalty During Peacetime
Earlier this summer Goodyear tires ran afoul of President Trump and many conservatives after a slide said to be part of their training program went viral on social media. Goodyear’s a major brand. Who would share your company’s training slide on line? Maybe no one. But the independent tire companies who sold Goodyear tires experienced the ripple effects of the controversy.
Many of those tire stores had loyal customers who called to express concern. The companies who fared the best had already branded themselves through their store name instead of through the major brand of tire they sold. They also had email lists which allowed them to speak directly to their customers without the noise of social media.
When you build brand loyalty and a strong community reputation, your customers will defend you and stay with you for the long haul. Even if you are wrong, many customers will stay if you offer a heartfelt apology along with your plans to improve on any shortcomings.
Prepare Your Response
When a maelstrom of complaints hits your inbox and social media site prepare a response and stick with it. Once you’ve listened to the complaints and discerned any truthfulness, craft your response in a timely manner. Ask for feedback from your employees and customers you trust before releasing that statement to your social media accounts.
Once you’ve chosen your response, distribute it to anyone who has a reason to speak to the press. A consistent answer with follow-through does more to solidify your reputation than wishy-washy answers that change by the day.
Protect Yourself, Your Family, and Your Employees
If detractors of your company or organization turn to threats and violence, it’s time to involve the authorities. Contact an attorney for advice on necessary legal action is the complaints are unfounded and breach the line of malicious intent. If you’ve received threats or had your property vandalized, contact the police and an attorney. We are not lawyers and cannot advise you on legal matters.
It may be advisable to make your personal social media profiles private or disabled until the storm passes. Be aware if you disable your personal Facebook page you will no longer have access to your business page. You can make it harder to find your personal page or those of family members who may be experiencing the fallout by changing your profile image away from your picture and restricting what information is public on your profile.
Businesses and individuals get caught up in cancel culture for multiple reasons, some warranted and some unwarranted. The single most important step you can take right now to buffed your business against cancel culture is to build a solid loyal customer base. We can help you implement a marketing strategy to do just that. Contact us today for a free consultation.