Contributed to EO by Eden Gillott, an EO Los Angeles member who is president of Gillott Communications, a strategic communications and crisis PR firm. She’s the author of A Business Owner’s Guide to Crisis PR: Protecting You & Your Business’ Reputation, and serves the EO Los Angeles chapter as MarComm co-chair. We asked Eden how to protect your company from being cancelled. Here’s what she shared:
In the digital era, cancel culture has become a formidable force, holding public figures, top executives, and established businesses to a rigorous accountability standard. A company’s reputation, carefully cultivated over years, can be threatened in mere moments.
As the head of a strategic communications and crisis PR firm, I’ve been on the frontline, steering clients through these turbulent times.
The unpredictability of cancel culture means it can surface without warning, carrying with it profound implications for businesses. By understanding its nuances and crafting a proactive strategy, you can not only withstand the storm but emerge stronger on the other side.
Equip yourself with these strategies to build a cancel-resistant business and protect your brand’s legacy:
1. Understand Cancel Culture
It’s important to recognize that cancel culture is a broad term. At its essence, it’s a social boycott. It can occur when someone, typically a celebrity, brand, or high-ranking executive, has done something others find offensive. However, it’s not just about being on the wrong end of public opinion — it’s about the perceived violations of social norms and values.
2. Commit to Being Uncancellable
This is where your battle against cancel culture begins: Deciding to refuse to be canceled. If you’re unwilling to put in the work and fight against it, no strategy will save you. Once you’ve decided to break the glass in case of cancel culture emergency, encourage open conversations within your team, ensuring that everyone understands the company’s commitment and values. This creates a self-regulating environment where internal potential pitfalls can be identified and handled early.
3. Prioritize Physiological and Safety Needs
The emotional and mental strain stemming from cancel culture isn’t just borne by the company but by its employees. Employees might face physiological and safety challenges, from mental health stresses to doxing threats. Investing in mental health resources, such as counselors or stress-relief programs, can offer valuable support. Take threats of violence at the workplace or at employee’s homes seriously.
4. Maintain Business Continuity Plans
Every business must have a plan to remain operational despite a crisis. Is your business ready to adapt at a moment’s notice? If not, you need to create continuity plans. This involves risk assessments, identifying key business areas, and having backup plans. Regularly review and adapt these plans, taking into account the evolving nature of digital threats.
5. Have a Crisis Management Plan
These are stand-alone or part of a business continuity plan. Time is of the essence when you’re battling against a cancel culture mob. Using advanced tools like social listening software, you can monitor brand mentions and detect potential issues before they escalate. Simultaneously, having a library of holding statements allows for rapid response, demonstrating that the company is paying attention to the issue. Also, these statements mitigate the immediate backlash and buy you time to roll out the next steps in your crisis plan. Even releasing a holding statement committing to investigating the matter is often enough to minimize the online attacks.
6. Listen Before You Speak
In a crisis, information can be fragmented. Have you ever felt the need to respond immediately, only to immediately wish you could take it back? Ensure a thorough understanding of the situation. Engage with stakeholders, be it customers or critics, to get a comprehensive view.
7. Apologize Authentically When Appropriate
It’s essential to recognize who was genuinely harmed and extend a heartfelt apology to them. However, it becomes tricky when the clamor for an apology comes from an online mob eager to rage without understanding the issue. It’s crucial to discern when an apology is warranted and when it might seem forced or insincere.
If an apology is in order, make sure it counts. A forced and inauthentic apology resembles a child made to apologize without understanding why, or worse, a scene from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” While being genuine might seem like a no-brainer, the nuance of true empathy can be lost in high-stress situations. An apology that doesn’t resonate with genuine remorse or understanding can be worse than no apology at all. How would your customers perceive a forced apology?
8. Designate Communication Channels
Mixed signals and messaging can exacerbate the situation. Centralize communications that support the company’s goal to ensure clarity and consistency.
Remember, the first line of defense against cancel culture is an internal one, rooted in unwavering commitment and a refusal to be silenced. The strategy for navigating cancel culture is neither linear nor one-size-fits-all. It combines proactive planning, genuine empathy, and clear communication.
Like what you’ve read? Check out Eden Gillott’s other recent posts:
- When Your Brand Takes a Hit: How To Make a Swift Recovery
- 14 Strategic Questions to Ask During an Internal Communications Crisis
- 3 Ways to Use ChatGPT to Enhance Entrepreneurial Decision-Making
- How to Minimize Brand Damage When Disgruntled Employees Stir the Pot
- 5 Reasons Entrepreneurial Group Membership Enhances Your Ability to Navigate a Crisis Successfully