IS IT POSSIBLE FOR BRANDS TO STAY NEUTRAL IN THE SOCIAL MEDIA AGE?

#BoycottStarbucks, #DeleteUber, #GrabYourWallet.

Rallying cries of annoyed consumers echoed through social media recently. In these turbulent times, brands try as they might, are finding it hard to stay out of politics and avoid alienating their audiences.

Social media has changed everything. Even staying neutral can cause a backlash. Brands are experiencing more pressure than ever to make a stand one way or another, with consumers on all sides of the political spectrum airing their discomfit using hashtag boycotts and social media campaigns.

Taking a Stand

Against the grain, some companies have taken recent events as an opportunity to be vocal about where they stand, taking to their own social media soap box to directly state their position.

Regarding the divisive travel ban recently implemented in the USA, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a status on his Facebook page to decry the ban. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote on Twitter that the ban is ‘not right’ and offered to house refugees for free.

https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10103460278231481

More than just talk, nearly 100 mostly tech companies such as Twitter, Netflix, and Apple, have banded together to file a legal brief against the ban to protect their workforce which includes many immigrants.

Social Media Backlash

But whichever side a company takes, or appears to take, can cause a social media backlash. Pledging to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years earned Starbucks a hashtag boycott. Seeming to oppose the travel ban and prioritize immigrants over American citizens inflamed many twitter users who got the hashtag trending worldwide.

Uber found itself on the other side of the firing line by incensing those who oppose the ban. The New York Taxi Alliance staged a show of solidarity by refusing pick-ups from JFK airport for an hour. The pick-up app got flack for appearing to advertise themselves during this time. Soon #DeleteUber was trending on twitter, users posted screenshots of the delete page with strongly worded messages.

The online campaign ‘Grab Your Wallet’ encourages people to boycott any brands with affiliations to President Trump. Reasons companies have been listed range from financially backing Trump’s campaign, to stocking Trump family products in their stores such as Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. Dolce and Gabbana have been on the anti-Trump radar due to ‘expressing an interest in dressing the Trumps’.

Staying Neutral

One wrong move can be shared on social media instantly. Millions of times.  Many brands are trying their hardest to stay well out of things. Some have been criticised for not taking a strong enough position, but Instagram has recently been praised for remaining a safe place almost free of politics. (But this surely depends on who you follow)

The power that social media has over a brand can’t be ignored. In turbulent times, companies need to be extra careful with their digital presence if they want to remain as neutral as possible. It is however, a testament to the brand power of tech companies like Facebook and Apple that they feel they can be so outspoken. From now on other companies may follow suit and take a stand on their own beliefs.

But one thing is for sure, social media has changed everything.

An-yal