May 23, 2022

Brand authenticity in moments of cultural crisis.

In recent years, the ubiquity of the internet has led to a significant increase in social media dialogue surrounding major societal events. The new challenge for marketers is to assess when, how and if their brands can authentically join in.

Social trends are a strong starting point for brands in building both reach and relevancy with their audiences. Social media has proven itself to be an affordable, effective way to grow impressions and overall brand awareness online compared to more traditional media. With low production expectations and the viral nature of online media, brands that strategically leverage trending conversations can see massive audience growth.

At the same time, the “town square” of social media includes many challenging societal topics. While this is an important medium for individuals to join in on important conversations, it creates a more challenging environment for brands to get involved. Most notably, the murder of George Floyd, the COVID-19 pandemic and the #MeToo movements have all led to incredibly important conversations online that brands must navigate carefully to avoid causing damage.

To help brands navigate this, we have developed a simple framework that serves as a starting point for understanding how, when and if brands should participate in important societal conversations.


Societal-event guidelines framework

Bailey Lauerman’s response guidelines are organized into three core areas:

  1. Brand values:

    What a brand stands for and what it believes in

  2. Response history:

    The track record a brand has for speaking out on similar topics

  3. Corporate behavior:

    The clear, tangible action a brand takes as a response to an event

With these core areas defined, a brand can evaluate a societal event on a case-by-case basis to quickly decide how, and if, to take action. Evaluating what criteria the brand meets will determine what kind of response or action is needed. The chart below helps guide conversations on if and when a brand should respond or enter conversations and take action.

Start by asking yourself three core questions listed at the top. If you answer yes to all three questions, your brand has a place in the conversation and should act. Depending on if you answer yes to one or two of the questions in each column will determine if you should act or monitor.


Taking action

When timing is tight and a response may be needed quickly, these guidelines provide a fast way to evaluate what to do next. Beyond a scenario where the criteria in all core areas are satisfied (which is a fairly clear indication that action is needed), understanding when to act can be difficult to navigate. Using these guidelines, we get three possible actions:

  1. ACT:

    When the brand can show clear relevance, and can be a credible voice about the societal event and EITHER has a history of similar response/action OR is making a clear internal change as a response to the event.
    In this scenario, an authentic social media response is possible and should be fast-tracked to show a sense of urgency. If the brand waits to see what others do, it runs the risk of being perceived as disingenuous or virtue-signaling.



    When only the criteria in a single core area are satisfied OR if the organization is taking action but the societal event does not have a clear tie to the overall brand.
    In this scenario, monitoring is necessary. This is because action could very easily be interpreted as disingenuous for the brand or a harmful response to the event. In these circumstances, the brand should coordinate with social partners to actively track the event and conversations online. In many circumstances, these events can shift rapidly, requiring reassessment to see if action is needed.



    When the event is irrelevant to the brand, the organization isn’t a credible voice or has no history of action or intent to change how they operate.
    In this scenario, brands must not get involved. Often, brands will have an urge to “join in” simply because it feels necessary. It isn’t. If social participation is done incorrectly, brands can be perceived as trying to cash in on important societal dialogue and can do more harm than good.


The one big takeaway

If nothing else, these societal event guidelines serve as an evaluation of authenticity. When brands participate in online conversations, it must be done delicately to both protect the brand and to add meaningful value to communities engaging in any societal issue. By leveraging guidelines like those above, it’s possible for brands to quickly evaluate if a response is advisable and avoid wasting valuable time.

To learn more, please contact Emily Mazurek, Head of PR and Social, [email protected]


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