The fact is that all brands, regardless of what they’re selling, need to be active on social media. Whether it be LinkedIn or TikTok, social media is such a cultural touchstone that brands risk failure (or at the very least, obscurity) without it. Of course, implicit in a brand’s social media presence is the expectation that it will participate in trending or culturally relevant events.
But this doesn’t always mean they should.
When deciding whether or not to participate, brands need to measure their intention versus impact and join in only if it makes sense.
One of the questions brand executives should consider is if their industry aligns with the event or the audience. If there isn’t a clear connection, it might not be in the brand’s best interest to comment.
It all comes down to whether a brand’s participation is performative or genuine.
“Corporations trying to capitalize on celebrations meant to uplift communities that have been ostracized and persecuted will be called out on social media,” says Gail McInnes, PR manager here at Venturepark. “This isn’t about being ‘cancelled’—this is about repercussions and accountability.”
Even if executives are genuine about their desire to participate, it might not be in the brand’s best interest. For some, this can be a tough pill to swallow. Social media is all about engagement after all, and according to real-time data, participating in cultural moments can be extremely lucrative. From a purely marketing perspective, participation is a no-brainer.
But it’s all too easy to miss the mark.
According to McInnes, “There are multiple examples of Pride and Juneteenth merchandise from mass retailers or corporations who simply update their logo to include a rainbow. That shows their marketing is merely performative—especially as many of those corporations have a history of donating to organizations and causes that do the opposite of supporting the ones they’re now trying to ‘participate’ in.”
To be genuine about cultural engagement, brands should take the following steps:
1. Take time for education and understanding
This should go without saying, but you can’t properly engage with a cultural moment without knowing the history and stories behind it. (And if you try, McInnes says people will see right through it.)
2. Consider inconsistencies
Is your organization inclusive? Is there equal representation in your leadership? Does your work demonstrate diversity? If your engagement or messaging around certain cultural events sticks out like a sore thumb, then your brand should rethink its involvement.
3. Evaluate your intentions
Getting involved in cultural events like Pride Month can be impactful and fun. But it’s important to remember that these occasions aren’t equivalent to holidays and aren’t opportunities to capitalize. Instead, a brand should ask itself, “is our involvement or messaging making life better for the target community? Will our campaign have the impact we intend it to, or is it possible people will receive it differently?”
“Rainbow Washing, like what Pink Washing is to Breast Cancer Month, is simply the act of companies slapping rainbows on their windows, without actually putting in the effort to create a tangible positive outcome for the LGBTQIA+ community,” McInnes says. “Is it even the most current and inclusive flag? If a brand embraces, celebrates, supports, and empowers the LGBTQIA+ community year-round, it’ll have customers for life.”
In the same vein, brands should be wary of putting out the same tone or message like it’s business as usual while promoting a hashtag to act like they’re involved.
“Diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ aren’t just buzzwords for corporations to throw around. The work needs to be consistent throughout the year,” McInnes says.
Just because there’s a natural inclination to get involved in cultural moments on social media doesn’t mean your brand should. But if you want to (with the right intentions), ensure you’re tailoring your content to be custom and thoughtful. Brands can have an optimum impact only if they create positive value.