Should My Brand Post About
Social Injustice Issues?

Emily Volz | December 8, 2023

For people who study social media, it can be hard to find conclusive evidence about the connection between hate crimes and social media because the tech giants aren’t very forthcoming with their data. But for those of us in the U.S., unless we have family or friends in Israel or Palestine, we’re learning everything about this conflict from media sources. We can’t deny that there is a direct correlation between the information we consume and how we choose to act based on that information.

While traditional media sources play a big role in this, we also need to acknowledge the role we all play in contributing to and shaping public conversations on social media. The hate crime data tells us we’re witnessing in real time what it looks like when information sharing and calls to action lack discernment, ethics, and responsibility. When journalists receive their education they go through ethics courses because they hold a huge amount of responsibility when they disseminate information. These days we are all self-appointed journalists on social media and none of us received the ethics lesson. But nonetheless, we all hold that responsibility.

The information we share and the statements we make in digital spaces have real consequences to people’s mental and physical well-being. And even when people are well-trained and have the best of intentions, there is always the potential for unintended consequences. We rarely know for certain how people will interpret our words and act on them, and we rarely have all of the information, especially about contentious issues that we’re learning about through media sources. The information we share and the statements we make in digital spaces have real consequences to people’s mental and physical well-being. Holding this responsibility requires humility.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a big-hearted entrepreneur trying to understand how to positively impact issues you care about. Maybe you’ve already thought about some of this or you feel a hesitation about posting on social media. Maybe you have posted and you received backlash. Or maybe you posted what you were “supposed” to post, but not what felt truly authentic to you.

When a crisis hits or significant conflicts arise nationally or internationally social media can be an important source of first-hand information, community organizing, and mutual aid. But if we aren’t careful, it can also be a source of immense polarization. Social media is not a tool that does very well at helping us hold complexity or stay connected with people who hold differing views than we do. Nuance just doesn’t often fit into the palm of our hands.

So when a crisis hits, especially a contentious crisis, how does an impact-driven brand decide whether or not to say something about it? If the business isn’t directly affected, is it their place to put more words out into the cacophony of voices when they aren’t a journalist, politician, community organizer, or an impacted community member? Is it inhumane not to say something?

The problem is you can find any answer you want to these questions. Some will say you are part of the problem if you stay silent. And some will tell you to stay quiet and stay in your lane.

If you do choose to post something, then there are the contradicting opinions about what to post and how to post it. It can feel like no matter what you decide, someone will be upset. And honestly, that’s probably true with any contentious issue. We live on a planet with almost 7.9 billion people. We are never all going to agree, even about atrocities done to each other.

That being said, this isn't a pass to be reckless. The goal - and the risk - of saying something is to ease the pain, sorrow, and suffering, not add to the harm. In order to do that, it's important to listen, learn, and be intentional with how you engage.

There are 5 questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to post something about a public issue you aren’t directly impacted by.

    1. What is local to you and what does your business directly impact? In other words - what is your impact strategy?
    2. What do you know about the issue and how reliable are your sources?
    3. What are the people directly impacted by the issue asking for?
    4. How is the issue at hand relevant for your brand and the people you serve?
    5. What is the purpose of posting something and what are you contributing by doing so?

1. What is local to you and what does your business directly impact? In other words - what is your impact strategy?

Social media has a way of flooding our information channels so much that there can be an immense feeling of pressure to respond to a crisis. The current topic feels like the most pressing and urgent issue. But here’s the thing - jumping from hot topic to hot topic isn’t a very effective impact strategy. Deep, lasting impact comes from working long-term on a specific set of topics, even when it isn’t the popular thing to talk about. Brands do this intentionally by creating a well thought out impact strategy to address the direct implications of what they sell, how they produce it, and who they’re selling it to.

For example, let’s consider a small-scale local distillery. They produce and bottle gin and they have a tasting room that is beloved by locals. They sell their gin nationally and internationally, and have won awards for its quality. They care about social and environmental issues - so how do they choose what to support and speak out about?

The distillery can go in a number of directions with their impact strategy. They could do one or more of the following:
    → Get granular with where they source their ingredients from, ensuring the farmers receive a living wage and the farming practices are regenerative
    → Consider how settler colonialism enables them to utilize land for their distillery, tasting room, and farming practices, and create a wealth redistribution strategy rooted in a reparations framework (if they are Euro-American)
    → Explore the intersection of alcohol and social inequality, and support regional organizations that are working to counteract those inequities
    → Ensure they have business practices that create a healthy and financially beneficial working environment for their team
    → Identify ways to decrease their environmental impact and support environmental justice initiatives in their local community

In order to choose what to focus on they’d take stock of the resources they have available such as people power, time, money, influence, intellectual property, or the products they produce. And then they’d assess where the needs are and what they’re most interested in.

An effective impact strategy connects a business to the social systems that enable the business to operate and recognizes where those systems need improvement. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that every business has an impact on society and the environment, and it tries to counteract any negative impact in a tangible, regenerative way.

When a brand has a clearly defined impact strategy the decision of what to speak out about and how becomes a lot easier because they’ve already thought about what they want to focus on and how to allocate their resources. They can more easily see how a current event may or may not be connected to their impact areas. And they can even include in their impact strategy what types of current events are appropriate for them to respond to.

Rather than jumping on social media bandwagons about current events, they have a targeted focus and they know they’re generating tangible results in those areas. They’re well-informed about their areas of focus and they turn to other experts in the areas they know less about. They understand they are one part of collective action.

So let’s say you’re a brand who has an established impact strategy, but you’re not sure if a current event is relevant for you to post about. OR you don’t yet have an impact strategy and you’re trying to decide whether to post about a social issue…

2. What do you know about the issue and how reliable are your sources?

Many people (myself included) get the majority of their “news” from social media or from 1-2 news sources. However, we have to remember that algorithms continuously feed us the same type of content. So, taking stock of what information you’ve gathered and where you’ve gathered it from is an important first step. If you are only learning about an issue through what other people are telling you, rather than your own experiences, it’s worth noting what you know as fact, speculation, and false.

It’s also worth recognizing where there may be bias in the information you’re getting. Humans are not objective and neither is the media. Even if someone is reporting on a fact (i.e. 10,000 square miles of forest have burned), the meaning they make from that fact depends on their point of view (i.e. humans are harming the planet with excess CO2 emissions). Bias isn’t inherently bad, but it is important context. And it’s especially important when consuming information on an algorithm based platform that can become an echo chamber if we’re not careful.

So what have you learned as fact, speculation, and fiction? Where are you getting this information from? Do you have a variety of views and sources such as news outlets, first-hand accounts, related organizations, experts or specialists?

If you feel unsure answering these questions, it may not be the appropriate time for you to post something about the topic. If you do feel sure answering these questions, then here’s the next one for you.

3. What are the people directly impacted by the issue asking for?

When an issue makes news and becomes a popular topic social media becomes the place where anyone can voice their perspective on it. Calls to action like “use your voice” become common and while that can be an important thing to do, by no means is it the only, or even the most needed, thing to do. In fact, posting or reposting on social media can often lead to performative activism that isn’t really backed up by tangible contribution.

The reality is, there are likely many people who have already been working on the issue for years who have a long-term understanding of what the immediate, mid-term, and long-term solutions might be. The closer someone is to an issue, the closer they are to the solutions. So looking for that information and listening to it can lead to more effective and supportive action.

Unfortunately, social media can often undermine this. When there are so many hot takes on a topic, it can convolute what’s actually needed. Sometimes people do need knowledge and awareness to be spread nationally or internationally. But more often than not, they also desperately need money, supplies, medical aid, specialists, government support, people power, and so much more. While social media is a tool to share about these needs, it is rarely the need in and of itself. And that can be easy to forget when we’re hundreds or even thousands of miles away from a crisis, learning about it through our phone.

4. How is the issue at hand relevant for your brand and the people you serve?

5. What is the purpose of posting something and what are you contributing by doing so?

Before posting on social media, especially about contentious issues, it’s helpful to understand what your goal is. Are you trying to change hearts and minds? Are you trying to engage in a healthy dialogue? Are you expressing anger? Are you being vulnerable and seeking connection?

Understanding the goal is important because it isn’t just about putting a post out there, it’s also about what happens when people start responding to your post. The way you respond back to them will depend on what your goal is. I often see people who think they want healthy dialogue, but in reality they want agreement and validation for their perspective. So when people disagree with them it becomes a debate and it only adds to the chaos of social media.

Posting on social media is contributing to the collective conversation. Your post may only reach a few people or it may reach thousands. With how easy it is to post on social media, we risk forgetting that our words carry weight. The way we talk about a crisis is part of the crisis. So being clear about the purpose of posting and the contribution we’re making to the conversation is an important part of engaging with intention.
Social media can be a reactive space. This isn’t inherently bad, there’s a time and a place for quick reaction. However, if that’s the only type of reaction we have in these intense conversations, it can be difficult to find the nuance and complexity in our human experiences.

It’s okay to take the time to reflect on the five questions above and be discerning with what you post. It’s also okay to find ways to engage that aren’t on social media. The quality of what we say and do in these moments is more important than the quantity.

The first social media site went live in 1997. In the grand scheme of things, it is still so new and young. Humans have been grieving, gathering, and supporting each other for millenia. We know how to do this, with or without the tech giants.