June 18, 2020

Beware of Tone-Deaf Messaging in the Age of Social Justice

Broaching topics of social injustice is as tricky as they come, trying to address a topic as sensitive as racism and trauma can leave communities reading tone-deaf messages that will surely be called out. Two weeks after the tragic death of Floyd, ListenFirst has dug into both the brand response around the protests and insights about what’s connecting most with audiences.

ListenFirst looked at the average numbers of social media content responses on posts by S&P 500 Brands that discussed #BlackLivesMatter, George Floyd, or racism in general between March 25 – June 7, 2020.

Here is what they found:

#1 Brand Equity Around Social Justice Is Something Built Over Time

Looking at the last two weeks, Nike shared 3 posts relating to #BlackLivesMatter on social, which averaged 1,924,537 responses, by far the highest average for any S&P 500 brand for any #BlackLivesMatter related social media posts during that time period. Their messaging emphasized that you shouldn’t turn your back on racism, and it was far from a coincidence their brand messaging is what resonated most on the topic. Nike had already had a campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, who is the athlete most associated with the fight against police brutality back in 2018, and has long been a brand that has publicly advocated for social justice issues. Audiences aren't looking for brand tourists around causes, and if you want your brand to connect on social media around social justice advocacy, that equity needs to be built up over time, and can’t be earned by a standalone post.

#2 Advertisers Showed High Participation In #BlackOutTuesday

There’s been a robust debate over if #BlackOutTuesday — where people and brands in solidarity with black people posted a black square on their social media accounts — was helpful or counterproductive. ListenFirst data can confirm that brands were more involved with the initiative than just sharing black squares. Of 1,821 brands with Facebook ad accounts, only 1.4% ran a Facebook or Instagram ad on June 2, 2020 for a total of 240 ads on #BlackOutTuesday. That’s a decrease of -76.92%, compared to the average volume of Facebook and Instagram ads that have run during the previous Tuesdays in 2020.

#3 Audiences Respond Positively To Specific And Forceful Messaging

While many brands shared messaging that had a general call to end racism, Ben & Jerry’s not only called out what had happened, but also what needed to be done in much more specific terms. The brand’s post about police brutality and dismantling white supremacy generated 355,246 responses across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Ben & Jerry’s, which like Nike has built a multi-decade reputation as a leader on social justice issues, shows us that the audience wants brands to go beyond joining the conversation. They want brands to participate in what it will actually take to fix systemic racism.


-Sarah Alexander
Operations Manager