Navigating the Social Justice Marketing minefield
It takes much more than ambassadors, metal straws, and rainbow-themed limited edition products to win over the social activists. Because where there is Social Justice, there are real injustices faced by people who won't be placated by lip service.
Social Justice Warriors are some of the most passionate people on the internet, and thus have the potential to be converted into loyal brand followers. However, they are a tricky bunch, and can easily become anti-fans. Especially if they think you don't believe in their cause, or are not well-informed. How do you win over such a crowd?
The simplest answer: Commit. Commit. Commit.
It's all about commitment. Most of the good causes reflect larger social issues, which typically take more than a month to fix. Feeding a starving child for a day but not for the remaining 364 days of the year won't save him/her from dying. It's like buying carnations for your mother on Mother's Day, but not lending her a hand with the housework for the rest of the year. (If this bit doesn't make sense to you, we humbly recommend using other forms of marketing.)
Commit: To the cause all year round
Pick 1 cause and stick with it. Be there for the party, as well as the fights.
It doesn't mean you have to wave the womens' rights card all the time. Unless your brand is made exclusively for women, by women. Or your CEO is a very vocal womens' right activist herself, due to personal history.
Just be sure to support relevant events and social campaigns during off-seasons, and to voice support when your cause surfaces in the online conversations. (Do more than reply when your cause is trending.) It builds authority, and helps prevent people from saying "Oh, your brand is just doing it for the attention."
One perk of committing to a cause: When you train your social media/community managers, they will only need to focus on one major social issue. They will be able to give better answers, and avoid digressing too far from their main objective - promoting your brand.
Commit: To proceeds AND dollar value
It's accepted for brands to say "20% of the proceeds goes to supporting children with cancer". But it shows transparency and true commitment to say "100% of the profits goes to supporting children with cancer, and we will top up the donation with $1 for every pair of socks sold".
Action may speak louder than words, but money speaks louder still. Because everyone assumes businesses put money before everything else; committing the hard-earned profits to a larger altruistic cause, indicates the organisation's true priorities.
Commit: To the social media channel and audience
Grab your brand strategist(s) or social media analyst(s), and work with them to find out where your ideal audience (i.e. your ideal tribe of socially-conscious people) is. That social media space will serve as the digital home for all your social activation efforts. If your budget/timeline allows, feel free to cross-post/adapt your content. But do decide on a "BAE: Before Anywhere Else" channel for social causes.
This fulfils three functions:
1) Gives your socially-conscious followers a dedicated space to discuss your causes. When done right, it means you can focus on business on LinkedIn, while your Instagram focuses on social causes.
2) Simplifies your call to action. Less confusion, less repetition, less resistance.
3) Automatically provides a sense of transparency, coherence, and commitment. When someone interested in your social cause taps into your profile, they will see all your effort at a glance. Which makes your efforts more credible.
Final notes: Singapore's context
For every well-meaning Singaporean, there's at least one ultra-conservative, easily-triggered, expert-level keyboard warrior. Someone who doesn't want women/LGBTQ people/minorities to have fair opportunities. That's something to be expected, and managed.
Here are 4 steps to get ultra-prepared:
1) Join and read the biggest Facebook groups for both sides of the controversial issue. Get educated, and list all the arguments for/against your cause.
2) Get on hardwarezone, and learn from the controversial conversations on EDMW. The garden variety keyboard warrior usually spawns there, and argues in a similar fashion/pattern.
3) Build an FAQ, as well as a list of strong, eloquent resources/articles that you can use to distract/educate the detractors.