Brand Activism and the Role of Content

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As the business world evolves, so does the need for brands to adapt their customer-facing strategies. If you’ve paid attention to what other companies have been doing over the last few years, then you’ve probably noticed the increase in brand activism.

If your brand isn’t already participating in some form of activism, now’s the time to jump on board. And the only way to ensure success is through proper alignment with your content strategy.

What is Brand Activism?

“Brand activism is a natural evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Through CSR, brands make decisions that benefit communities or audiences affected by their brands,” content marketer Amanda Dodge writes.

Examples would include a consumer electronics company encouraging customers to recycle old laptop batteries, or a local landscaping company working to promote water conservation.

“Brand activism takes CSR one step further,” Dodge explains, “where brands become active as visible entities leading the way toward a cause.”

While CSR has been commonplace in the business world for a while, brand activism is relatively new. In the past, businesses were afraid of getting too involved in social and political causes for fear of alienating a large portion of their customer bases.

As Michael Jordan once said when asked to publicly support a candidate for the U.S. Senate, “Republicans buy shoes, too.” His message was loud and clear: When you support an issue, you’re also going against the opposite issue. By staying neutral, you avoid rocking the boat. In his case, why would he want to alienate half of the people who would presumably want to buy his shoes?

While Jordan’s logic is still sound – and was the predominant approach for brands and public figures for years – the number of brands who stay silent are fewer and farther between. This is largely due to pressures from the marketplace – particularly social media.

Despite the many opportunities social media has afforded businesses, it’s also created additional pressure and exposure. Whereas brands were once able to sit in silence and hide behind an invisible curtain, they’re now open to harsh public criticism if they choose to stay silent on issues that the marketplace expects there to be dialogue around.

“Anyone can get in touch directly with the brand on a public platform and in real time,” content marketing expert Nicole D’Angelo writes. “If someone’s upset with you, your social media managers are going to have a rough day at work. If enough people are upset with you, it easily spirals into a boycott, and your bottom line may be in danger.”

An example would be Uber, which recently dealt with the fallout over reports of sexism. It was so strong that an entire #DeleteUber movement spawned virtually overnight and sent thousands of customers to Lyft, a direct competitor.

In all honesty, Uber wasn’t doing much different than other companies have done in the past, “But because of the scrutiny of social media, these practices that likely would have gone unnoticed a couple of decades ago are now the subject of international outrage,” D’Angelo explains. “Instead of being written up in a few newspaper articles here and there, corporate injustices are now posted online and spread throughout the world faster than a PR team can blink.”

For better or worse, that’s where things stand right now, and the best option businesses have is to be proactive and get ahead of these matters.

Using Content to Push Brand Activism Forward

Content plays a critically important role in making brand activism work. As you look at your own content strategy, here are a few things to think about.

1. Identify Your Cause

The motivation behind your content will come across loud and clear. If you want your brand activism to come across as genuine, you must identify a cause that you actually care about. Even more importantly, it needs to be something your marketing team cares about.

2. Think About Your Audience

As with any element of marketing and branding, the audience matters, as well. You should find an issue that intersects your brand’s interests and the interests of your customers. This helps with receptivity and bolsters your brand’s relatability.

3. Use Social Media

There’s plenty of room for variety in your content strategy, but social media must be the central focus of your brand activism. This is where the masses gather, and it’s the best place to maximize your return on investment.

Remember that social media is a two-way street. Don’t just push out content and bark at your followers. Take the time to listen, engage, and respond to feedback. The more you make your activism a conversation, the more transformational it’ll become.

4. Take Action

It’s not enough to share content on social media. If you want your audience to take you seriously, there has to be some follow-through.

“Social media allows everyone to communicate but those voices must be followed with action for social media’s role to continue to be impactful,” Chioma Azeh writes for InMyArea. “Otherwise, hashtags will lose their power in being the driving force for collective action and historical change.”

Find ways to align your content with tangible actions and you’ll get a whole lot more out of your brand activism. This is probably the most difficult part of the equation, so take your time with this part of the strategy.

5. Stay Consistent

At the end of the day, it’s all about consistency. If you’re going to give brand activism a try, you have to create a plan and stick with it. Your content can’t deviate from the message and you can’t contradict yourself or give your audience reason to question your motives.

Don’t Get Left Behind

You can’t afford to sit on the sidelines any longer. At best, it makes your brand irrelevant. At worst, it opens you up to being a target. By identifying a cause you believe in and pursuing brand activism through a calculated content strategy, you can stay ahead of the game and push your brand to the next level.

if you want to see how curated content can help you to engage your communities and spread the right message, download our eBook !


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About the Author

Anna Johansson
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant from Olympia, WA. A columnist for, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends.
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