The PR effects of cancel culture

hand holding iphone with all the social icons on the screen

If preparing for cancel culture isn’t part of your social media crisis planning, it should be.

Cancelling is a way for an individual or a collective to publicly call out and demand accountability to everyone and everything – from individuals to big brands and organizations. When you can’t bring down the system, you can chip away at it by canceling those on top.

(In case “being cancelled” is something you haven’t heard of, read this primer by Vox.)

From a 1991 Wesley Snipe movie to a 2014 reference on “Love and Hip-Hop: New York,” the phrase has since gone mainstream and is now part of our communications landscape. In today’s environment, being cancelled goes beyond a trending topic on social media. It can affect your brand and your bottom line. Here are three ways cancel culture can impact your PR and comms strategies.

Twitter’s trending #cancel________ hashtags

The gist: Twitter is the primary channel for cancel culture thanks to its hashtags and trending features that help quickly elevate and call attention to brands and individuals. Comedians have been cancelled for doing black face and telling homophobic or misogynist jokes in their sets, an author for making transphobic comments, a CEO of a Hispanic company for praising the president.

What it means: Being cancelled is a way for the masses to chip away at the system, and usually an individual is the target. If your leadership gets cancelled, before you comment, make sure there is a course of action in place. There should be genuine intention to change, with defined actions and a pathway forward that demonstrates commitment (see Amanda’s excellent post on the subject here).

Big names boycott Facebook Advertising

The gist: A few weeks back, big brands and advertisers signed on to the #StopHateforProfit movement. This was in response to Facebook allowing violent and other inciteful language on its platform (see this CBS News article).

What it means: Facebook is the second largest marketplace for digital advertising, and as a service provider, it relies on its customers to sustain its business. A boycott ensued, and several big names (REI, Starbucks, Ford) stopped advertising. A Stop Hate for Profit website was launched, with actionable steps for brands and individuals to take. Ask yourself and your leadership:

  • Will your organization partake in the boycott and find alternative forms of advertising?
  • Do your vendor’s values and actions matter to you?
  • How will you be more inclusive and diverse in your vendor selection?

Gen Z taking things to the next level with technology

The gist: TikTok is full of cancelling tactics. Dubbed the “Action Generation,” Gen Z on TikTok is a collective voice to reckon with. While the success of some of their tactics are debated, from the campaign rally in Tulsa to testing out the cart abandonment theory, Gen Z is managing to create a buzz and get our attention.

What it means: Some of them may not be able to vote yet, but Gen Z doing their part to build awareness and encourage others to make a change. There are more virtual events and more reliance on technology. While your organization may not be able to plan for every possible exploitation, buttoning up where you can may help. On the flip side, if your organization is doing a lot of good, consider building a community on TikTok or other niche platforms where the movement culture can help amplify your messages (but only if you’re authentic and genuine in the process).

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Casey Prentice

A self-proclaimed organizational junkie and data geek who confesses to a secret desire to be a professional organizer, Casey enjoys account management, writing, editing and digital content strategy. Her agency work has helped clients like Virginia’s Community Colleges, VCUarts and Swedish Match.

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