By Evan Nierman, Founder & CEO of Red Banyan, a global crisis PR firm. Co-author of The Cancel Culture Curse and author of Amazon bestseller Crisis Averted
Cancel culture: It’s a buzzword that seems to be popping up everywhere, and for good reason. Like it or not, cancel culture is changing people’s lives. Comics can be canceled because critics don’t like their jokes, celebrities can be canceled because people disagree with their politics and private individuals can be canceled because someone didn’t like something they posted online.
Recognizing an online attack and having a plan to address the fallout can help businesses and leaders avoid negative consequences. Unfortunately, these situations often happen without warning. Having a crisis plan in place can be key to weathering online accusations and coming out on the other side as unscathed as possible.
Understand The Definition Of Cancel Culture
Cancel culture can foment a climate of fear. Cancel culture involves removing status or esteem from someone or something based on behavior or comments someone views as offensive. Accusers select their target, then rally the troops in a call to action, sometimes based on false accusations. The fallout can be fast, furious and hugely damaging.
Meanwhile, the online accusers may hide behind fictitious names or fake addresses so they’re able to operate with virtual anonymity. Fighting back can be difficult because salacious claims can quickly spiral out of control online. Situations like these can be equally as damaging to politicians, musicians and entertainers as they are to private citizens.
There are few drawbacks for the attackers, who may not get caught if they operate anonymously. And because cancel culture is internet-based, it has no borders, so there is no limit to the number of people who can participate.
Be Aware Or Beware
The plain truth is that cancel culture can happen to you. Famous or not, you can become the target of an online attack that can blow up into the kind of firestorm you never dreamed to be possible. Post an unpopular comment on social media and the fallout can be immediate. Some people tend to err on the side of outrage and may spring into action and cause lasting damage with lightning speed. And if you have no idea how to curb the downward spiral, the results to your business or career can be heart-stopping.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, approximately 61% of U.S. adults have heard at least a fair amount about the phrase “cancel culture,” an increase from 44% in September 2020. But despite the increased national awareness, four in 10 people say they have not heard too much about cancel culture or have not heard anything at all about the phrase.
The topic is highly politicized, and research by Pew has shown that cancel culture can mean different things to different people. According to their research, 51% of U.S. adults say calling out others on social media is more likely to hold people accountable, while 45% say it is more likely to punish people who didn’t deserve it. Some view cancel culture as a form of censorship that restricts free speech.
Regardless of where you stand, here’s what business leaders and entrepreneurs can do to avoid it.
Share With Care s I’ve recommended before, always post with a purpose and share with care. It’s sage advice that can go a long way in helping to avoid online conflicts that can cause long-term reputational damage. Because the internet can be so unpredictable, being proactive about preserving your and your business’s reputation can yield more positive results than being reactive.
Before hitting “send,” check social media posts carefully for anything that could be misconstrued or misinterpreted. Being thoughtless can result in unintended consequences for you or your company that can be hard to reverse. If you aren’t sure about something, err on the side of caution and don’t post. If you think your post could be misunderstood, edit it or don’t post it. A detractor could hit back online in a big way and stir up a hornets’ nest.
Creating a crisis response plan is a proactive way to prepare for the worst in case you or your business experience a social media meltdown. Hoping for the best is not advisable. Having a defined plan of action is the best way to help you through an emergency. Here are some cancel culture crisis communications tips:
• Establish a social media policy.
• Coordinate your messaging.
• Put damage controls in place before you need them.
• Push down negative content with positive content.
• Apologize if you erred.
• Respond to feedback with care.
• Take conversations offline if necessary.
Underestimating the effects of “cancel culture” on your reputation or business could be a mistake. Post wisely, remain vigilant and always have a plan so you can safeguard your online reputation.