In the past, it’s been considered a sound business practice for brands to avoid taking public political stances on hot topics. The consensus has been that siding with partisan politics is a sure-fire recipe for alienating consumers and getting press for the wrong reasons. But we live in a new world where social media has given everyone -- including businesses -- a voice. In particular, millennials aren’t keen on the idea of their favorite brands remaining silent on important issues.
Over the past 18 months, increasingly in the past few weeks, we’ve seen small businesses, Fortune 500 organizations and everyone in between buck conventional wisdom by using social media to oppose President Donald Trump’s controversial executive orders and policies. Is this good or bad business? That’s a question many experts are asking as they reassess the ever-changing landscape of social media.
#DeleteUber, Lyft and Public Perception.
Taking political stances on social media -- Facebook and Twitter, in particular -- has been a hot trend for months. We seem to have reached a climax since Trump signed an executive order Jan. 27th permanently banning Syrian refugees, and temporarily banning individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries, from entering the United States. The decision sparked protests all over the country, most notably Saturday night, Jan. 28, at JFK Airport in New York City.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance announced that there would be no pickup from JFK between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. in support of the protest. As most people are now aware, Uber made a decision to turn off “surge” pricing in an apparent effort to help transport people away from the airport in a quicker and more efficient manner. That infuriated many people, especially those who were already aware that CEO Travis Kalanick is an outspoken Trump supporter and a member of Trump’s business advisory group.
Uber quickly tried to clarify its decision and explain that it had nothing to do with breaking up the strike, but the tweet from Uber NYC was too little too late. The hashtag #DeleteUber was already trending, with thousands pledging to delete the app for good.
Even more intriguing is what competitor Lyft did. The day after the #DeleteUber fiasco, Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green sent out an email and made a statement on Twitter denouncing Trump’s executive order. Lyft then went on to explain that they would be donating $1 million to the ACLU over the next four years to help “defend the Constitution.”
“This weekend, Trump closed the country's borders to refugees, immigrants, and even documented residents from around the world based on their country of origin,” the statement reads. “Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft's and our nation's core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”
What does this mean?
The idea of speaking out about political issues via social media isn’t restricted to Uber, Lyft and Trump’s executive order on immigration. This is much a larger topic with significantly greater impact. Dozens of companies have refused to associate their brand name with Trump, and more and more are being added to the list each day.
For the moment, it appears that taking a stance against Trump on social media is the popular thing to do. It’s allowing businesses to gain good press from a media that largely agrees with such decisions, while also sparking conversation on major social networking platforms. It seems to especially resonate with millennials – many of whom strongly oppose Trump and his policies.
Many millennials use social media to form their political opinions. They tend to see political views, review what others are saying, then choose personal beliefs that align with the information they agree with. Social media is a channel for reaching potential millennial customers for businesses that brand themselves as advocates for social justice.
Grab a pen and take notes.
At this point, it isn’t clear whether vocally opposing President Trump on social media is a good or bad for business. Presently, it appears that there are short-term benefits to be gained – namely applause from the media and increased brand recognition. But businesses also have to consider the fact that Trump received nearly 63 million votes in the November election. In other words, there are millions of consumers who, at least in theory, approve of Trump’s approach.
It’s anyone’s guess as to what the long-term repercussions of adamantly opposing and belittling the beliefs of 63 million people will be. The next four years should be a case study on what to do/not do on social media. Start taking notes.