Beyond #BlackOutTuesday: navigating social media during social unrest
Photo by Clay Banks
In the past two weeks, our social media news feeds have been filled with news on George Floyd – an African-American man who tragically died at the hands of a white police officer while he was being arrested – and the subsequent revival of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the United States and beyond. In addition to the powerful images of his face and gatherings of protestors in Australia, South Korea and the UK posted over every social media platform, there have been impassioned calls to end violence against black people, systemic racism and police brutality across the world. Closer to home, names like Collins Khosa, Petrus Miggels and Robyn Montsumi dominate news headlines.
Offline activism also moved to the online space with users showing their support for those at the frontlines of protest action using hashtags like #ICantBreathe, #SayTheirNames and #BlackOutTuesday, which was born out of a music industry initiative in the US. Although initially for entertainers, big brands and ordinary people alike joined the initiative, the aim of which was to go silent on social media and use the time to reflect on current events. Users also posted a single black square as their profile picture on Facebook and Twitter or to their grid on Instagram as a symbol of solidarity with the BLM movement. Aside from some of the controversy around the symbolic sea of black squares on social media, the hashtag prompted a much-needed online exchange of information about BLM. It also raised some valuable questions about online activism, especially for digital marketers.
How do you navigate something like this as a brand? As an agency? Most significantly, as a human being?
On #BlackOutTuesday, the Pomegranite team had a meeting to talk about the tough yet very necessary discussions being had around the world. We talked about what each of us had observed and explored various ways of showing sensitivity to the issues, bearing in mind the identities and needs of our broad spectrum of clients, as well as our own values. This meeting also functioned as a forum for each team member to share how we as individuals were navigating the situation and decide together how we would like to respond to it as a business.
As an online presence consultancy it’s our responsibility not only to stay on top of digital marketing trends but also to be well-versed in social media etiquette and help our clients weather a tough social media climate. The thread that runs through this at all times is making sure that we never lose sight of the fact that, as abstract as social media can sometimes seem, posts are written – and read – by human beings who exist within the broader context of a world where we grapple with very difficult and very important issues. The team ultimately settled on pausing Pomegranite’s social media posts for the week and committed ourselves to listening and learning as much as possible. We decided to write a blog post about it all, because we wanted to join the conversation in a way that our team felt would be helpful and meaningful. We also felt this would be a solid foundation for developing more concrete social media protocols for times of social unrest.
In responding to a situation like this as a brand, one of the most important things to be aware of is that, no matter how good your intention, you can come across as insensitive, patronising, or perhaps even tone deaf. Although Pomegranite may not have a huge platform, our voice as an agency specialising in digital marketing and content creation matters, and in using our expertise to give our clients a voice online, we strive to provide them with a chance to learn and respond to noteworthy social issues.
After strategising as a team and settling on our own approach to the situation, we spoke to our clients about how they would like to respond to #BlackOutTuesday and navigate the days that followed. Without deciding an approach for them, we opened the door for discussion and shared a range of choices with them. This collaborative approach is part and parcel of how we operate as an agency and this presented an opportunity to educate our clients on what is going on, and learn from them in turn.
We suggested pausing business-as-usual content and offered three different approaches to posting:
– After careful consideration, if clients felt that their content did not come across as insensitive, we could maintain the same posting schedule after #BlackOutTuesday had passed.
– Clients could also choose to pause all scheduled content for the week to allow us to observe, learn and reassess when it would be appropriate to resume posting.
– Alternatively, if clients felt they would like to make a statement of solidarity, we could craft and publish content that acknowledged the situation in the most appropriate way for the brand. For example, this content could be anything from a respectful statement about listening and learning to a loud expression of condemnation of the violence and solidarity with the protestors.
This has been and will continue to be a learning experience for us. Going forward, our social media protocol documents will include specific guidance for ourselves and our clients on traversing the social media landscape when pressing global issues, and the powerful conversations they spark, are trending. Just as we believe that everyone has a voice, it’s also essential that they use that voice appropriately to raise awareness around things that matter. Beyond #BlackOutTuesday, we are committed to helping our clients do so, developing a more proactive approach in this area, educating ourselves and speaking about these issues.
We believe that conversations, especially difficult ones, are so important – with our clients, among our team, and as we move through the world as individuals.