Oct 07 Brands Tapping Into Election Season: The Big Debate
In the throes of perhaps the most controversial election season in decades, it’s nearly impossible to be present on a social media channel without seeing election and political topics trending or being shared in our feeds. As election day draws nearer, naturally we can’t help but to think about how brands may incorporate election-themed content into their mix as a way to find relevancy, or engage in conversations related to it.
Or whether or not brands should talk elections is about as controversial as the two leading candidates themselves.
So, we interviewed Ashlie Lanning, our Vice President of Community Management, to get the Dos and Don’ts on election content and conversation for brands targeting consumers in the US.
‘Tis the season for debates, politics and elections. How should brand tap into election conversation?
You know the old saying, “You should never talk about politics or religion,” when it comes to conversations? That rule of thumb applies for most brands in social media – and not just in election years. The two leading presidential candidates are pretty polarizing, so for a brand to align themselves with either could result in some not-so-pretty outcomes, even if it the brand’s intention was to be lighthearted or tongue-in-cheek. I can’t think of a case where the risk would be worth the reward.
Are you saying that brands should just stay away from sharing real-time content on social media that’s related to the election season?
Brands should always avoid real-time content if it isn’t relevant to their brand purpose and voice, and something that provides value to their customers. We prefer the term “right-time” content. So if you apply the right-time principle here, then yes. If a brand exists to support, or is widely known to support a political party, policy, or campaign, then sure; it’s not off the table to proactively or reactively engage with content and conversation about those key topics. Otherwise, I think most marketers would agree that the answer is almost always “no.”
No candidate or policy talk. Makes sense. What about a post or tweet that doesn’t take sides, but is patriotic and neutral?
Like the right to vote? Sure, that topic makes sense for some brands (certainly not all) to talk about if, again, it provides some meaning to the brands’ community and also represents the brand purpose and voice. Take our own company for example, Ignite Social Media. It may make sense for us to share content with our fans and followers about how our employees proudly wear their “I Voted” stickers at work or swap our bagel day for patriotic doughnuts. But again, that is not necessarily the right move for every brand.
Don’t just create content or hop on the topic because it’s popular. Geez, that sounds like something my mom would say!
What about current or prior administrations and policies: is it okay for a brand to talk about that?
So long as the topic is relevant and it’s presented purposefully, there is a lot more room for creativity and meaning there. Talking policy could be too risky, but there are some moments where brands could pay homage with a quote or universal moment that both the brand and community identify with.
Last question: If users make their own political comments on a brand’s channel, or mention or tag a brand in a political conversation of which they did not ask to be a part, how do they handle it?
Great question. There are many variables to consider before deciding how to handle this kind of situation. Our recommendation may vary from ‘ignore it’ to ‘remove it’ to a detailed outline on how to engage.
Overall, how a brand chooses to engage in political or electoral conversation speaks to the importance of having proactive guidelines in place.
First, brands should have community engagement guidelines posted within their communities, explaining how moderators may address comments such as those. For instance, harsh or inflammatory comments could be removed by the moderator.
Second, a brand’s social media strategy should include an escalation process that is agreed upon by all stakeholders – from consumer care teams to community managers, all the way up to executives. This would outline the proper way to address, flag, and if needed, escalate such conversations to the right parties.