Social media can be a great thing. We use it to share petitions, to draw attention to important causes, and to connect with and discover new people and brands.
But the immediacy of social media also means that in times like these, where after the horrific murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement is at the forefront of consciousness, there are lots of opportunities for brands to mess up.
What we did wrong
Let's start with the problems with Buro155's own post. It's important to note that all of the criticism received was from non-black people (all white, and one POC). That being said, here's what we did wrong:
1. We used the term non-white
In one slide of our mini-guide for brands, we suggested discovering and engaging with non-white creators on social media. Somebody reached out to let us know that the term non-white should be avoided because it makes white seem like the norm. This was obviously not the intention: the post was supposed to be pointing out the very opposite, but the intention is irrelevant: it's how it comes across that matters.
2. We included our Instagram handle
This probably stems from having been in the social media world for a long time, and the fact that it's standard procedure to brand your posts. But these times are anything but standard, and someone reached out to tell us that companies had been 'cancelled' for branding their social justice Black Lives Matters posts. The flip-side is that with information spreading like wildfire on social media, if someone hasn't branded their post it's hard to know how to credit the original creator, but the point is that it's not about kudos + proving your wokeness, it's about spreading helpful information solely for the purpose of spreading helpful info. (It's a different story for black creators sharing this information at this time, obviously).
3. We used the term 'diversify your feed'
This is another touchy one. A challenge for brands is that there's no one authority whose rules we should be following. The black squares were a great example: thousands posted a black square to their feed, only to backtrack and delete it the following day after a statement from UK Black Pride. I personally had seen a number of black creators posting encouraging people to diversify their feed, which is why it seemed like appropriate language. However, someone sent us a post from Layla Saad where she said the "expression literally makes my skin crawl because Black people do not exist to make other people's lives more 'colourful'".
What other brands did wrong
1. They took too long to post
Topshop, we're looking at you. They continued to post cute styled photos of pretty dresses, to the fury of their followers, who flooded Topshop's Instagram comments section, demanding a statement. That finally came, but Topshop went right back to posting outfits, without answering followers' calls for transparency on ethnic diversity in their head office.
2. They posted meaningless statements
A number of brands posted vague statements backing equality for all, failing to refer to black people and Black Lives Matter by name. This came across as disingenuous, like the brands were trying to hop on the bandwagon without actually taking a strong stand. Zara posted "We Stand for Equality", with one comment telling them to "Go back to the meeting and add some substance to this PSA. BE SPECIFIC."
3. They erased their failures
No brand or individual can respond perfectly 100% of the time. But a BIG no-no on being called out is to delete your post. One example is Jenna Kutcher, millionaire business coach. It turns out Jenna sent some outrageous tone deaf and racist emails a few years back to a black woman who called her out on her white saviour complex. Jenna was called out on her first Black Lives Matter posts last week, and despite Toi Smith (the email recipient) specifically asking Jenna to leave the posts up as a learning experience, Jenna deleted them, thus 'erasing' the hurt she caused. BURO155's own post received feedback as detailed above, but we left the post up and added the amendments in the comments so that others could see what we'd learned in the process.