By Natalie Olayo
As great PR professionals, it is our job to be well informed and do our best to be proactive rather than reactive, especially in today’s era of cancel culture. Social media has given brands and companies a platform to engage and speak to their publics directly, and the power to reach millions of people. But with great power comes great responsibility. Twitter has become the forefront of cancel culture, which is usually a result of miscommunication, misinformation or lack of respect toward a group of people. So, let’s talk about how not to get canceled and the biggest things we can do to avoid cancel culture.
What is Cancel Culture and Why Does It Matter?
Cancel culture is when the public no longer supports a public figure or company after they said or did something deemed inappropriate by the masses. Depending on what it is, one incident can leave a lasting impression on people, and it may be hard to regain their trust. Our primary responsibility as public relations professionals is to maintain a positive image for those that we represent, and being canceled is essentially the last thing we want for a client, or ourselves.
How to Avoid Cancel Culture
Do Your Research and Read the Room
Part of our responsibility as public relations experts is to stay up-to-date on politics, social/current events and consumer feedback. We do this through research. Commenting on a topic of conversation without being properly informed can tarnish your credibility and come off as being insensitive. Be sure to be aware of the general consensus, and only speak on an issue if there is something you feel would be a good contribution.
Stay On Brand
Everyone wants to go viral and everyone wants to be accepted, but don’t try too hard to get there. It’s okay to use memes and be funny, but let it be organic. Just be sure to stay on brand because you don’t want to get laughed at for your continuous bad jokes, or joking about the wrong topic and being labeled as something you’re not.
Fans and consumers have backgrounds of all kinds, and it is the brand’s responsibility to see and reflect that. Part of being inclusive is to truly try and understand your publics and be genuine! People can see right through it if you’re only being inclusive for the sake of appearance and acceptance. Whether you’re working on an advertisement or conducting focus groups, be sure to include people of many different backgrounds that represent your target audience.
It is of the utmost importance that you proofread all that you make public—for grammar and sensitivity issues, too. Make sure your wording is clear. With text it is easy for tone to be misread, or the message to be misinterpreted. If you’re unsure about it, chances are you shouldn’t publish it. Get a second opinion just in case.
Don’t Take It Personal
As we know, people on social media are very critical, and there will be several comments you come across that may trigger your emotions. It is important that you don’t respond out of emotion and potentially ruin the image of those you represent. There may be instances where your personal opinions may clash with theirs, leave your personal feelings at home.
People on Twitter enjoy finding old tweets that can harm someone’s image. Many people have tweets from 5+ years ago that did not age well. The trolls will take those old tweets and run with them. Be sure to go back and look through your old tweets. Make sure there are no tweets that could be misunderstood or misused. That goes for both your Twitter and the brand’s.
Overall, it is important that we are always careful of what we say and do in public. We have millions of people at our fingertips and it’s our job to understand them and provide a place of belonging and respect online. Lack of information and attention to detail—big or small—can be detrimental to us and those that we represent. We are in the middle of a pandemic, as well as pushing for social justice, understand that times are a lot more sensitive. Be an advocate, be understanding, be compassionate and do right by those that you represent as well as those you cater to.
If you ever find yourself or your company being cancelled, it is important that you have a plan for your comeback. As PR professionals, one of the best ways to learn is from other people’s past mistakes. With that being said, start reading case studies and identify what went wrong as well as what they could’ve done better. Stay up-to-date with topics of conversation, watch the news, but most importantly, take the time to listen to your people—internally and externally.
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