CONSUMER ACTIVISM: HOW TO PREPARE AND HOW TO RESPOND - DEVENEY

CONSUMER ACTIVISM: HOW TO PREPARE AND HOW TO RESPOND

Olivia Parker
Digital Associate Account Executive
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In 2018, brands are witnessing a wave of a new consumer activism. According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, since the beginning of 2016, one in five Americans has participated in some form of activist involvement. In all, 27% of American adults have taken part in two or more offline activities, while 18% (representing 24% of Internet users) have engaged in two or more activities online. And, many of them claim they plan on getting more active. Making sure your brand is properly prepared to engage with activists both proactively as well as reactively will be essential to navigating the activism landscape.

Activism Defined:

Activism can be understood as acting to affect social change and can occur in a myriad of ways and in a variety of forms. It is most often concerned with “changing the world” through social, political, economic or environmental efforts. Activism can be led by individuals but is often done collectively through social movements.

Types of Activism:

  • Digital/Internet/Social Media
    • The use of electronic communication technologies such as social media, email, podcasts, etc. to enable faster and potentially more effective (far-reaching) transmission of oppositional beliefs by concerned citizens who may or may not be involved in a larger movement
  • Protests/Grassroots Movements
    • The protest is perhaps the oldest and most traditional form of activism
    • Individuals (who may or may not be part of the same community and/or organization) who coordinate and assemble a large-scale event bearing witness on behalf of a cause
    • Protesters may organize a protest as a way of making their opinions heard to influence public opinion or government policy, or they may undertake direct action to enact desired changes themselves
    • Can be non-violent and/or violent depending on the situation and can escalate from non-violent to violent depending on the circumstances
    • May take place in one designated location or could consist of physical movement i.e. a walk or march
  • Activist Organizations
    • The activism industry consists of organizations and individuals engaged in various forms of activism fighting at least one perceived injustice; often done full-time as part of the organization’s core business model
    • Often non-profit and/or non-governmental
    • Does not generally manufacture goods
    • May engage in lobbying, or attempting to influence decisions made by the federal government
    • Examples of Activist Organizations: PETA, Greenpeace, ACLU, Black Lives Matter, etc.

Profile of an Activist:

  • Usually involved in larger organization/movement
  • Engage in demonstrations, sit-ins, etc.
  • Act on what they believe to be true and/or what they hold as core values (i.e.: civil liberties, women’s rights, animal rights, etc.)

 

Proactive: Get Ahead of the Curve

First Steps

  • Identify issues that might attract activists’ attention
  • Assemble crisis management plan and team with members in specialty areas who have activism or similar experience
  • Develop specific crisis management plans for different types of possible activism crises
  • Select and train a credible spokesperson for the media
  • Consider conducting dry runs/test crises to make sure your plans will work

Do Your Research

  • Develop media relations plan, community relations plan and risk communications strategy
  • Appoint responsibility to appropriate members of staff who have relevant experience in crisis management (especially when it comes to activism)
  • Develop a written and verbal complaints procedure
  • Consider holding community events or engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility programs – reach out to the community if you think they may turn against you; don’t isolate your brand
  • Identify and keep in touch with the views of all activist groups that may prove a threat
  • Keep track of public opinion of the organization and relevant general issues (environment, animal rights, equal pay, racism, sexual assault, etc.)
  • Do not lose touch with breaking news and trending headlines – always be on top of what’s going on in the larger community that could affect your brand in some way

Avoid:

  • Don’t assume it won’t happen – anyone is vulnerable to a crisis, activism-related or not
  • Don’t play defense instead of offense
    • You may not always have the opportunity to expect the unexpected, but waiting to act until an activism-related crisis occurs is not the way to go unless there’s no other option
  • Don’t expect people/public opinion to be on your side – including employees
  • Don’t release messaging related to a potential crisis without consulting your crisis management team and/or legal counsel– risk of bringing unwanted negative attention to your brand
    • This goes for reactive crisis management as well

 

Reactive: Crisis Management

Protocol:

  • Identify and act quickly
  • Keep calm
  • Do not engage in further verbal or written communication, especially online
  • Be on high alert

Be discreet and cordial

Preparing for a Protest:

  • Identify and act quickly
  • Expect a video camera; this means they may come in groups of two or more

During a Protest:

  • Administrators should handle addressing the protesters, not staff
  • Ideally there is no video footage, but we should at least aim to keep the encounter as short as possible
  • Avoid protesters entering private property
    • Verbal phrases to communicate:
      • “We apologize, but no video camera recordings are allowed on our premises at this time.”
      • “Ma’am/Sir, you’re going to have to vacate the building.”
      • “Please adjourn to public property for your speech.”
    • Continue to not engage in further verbal communication

Avoid:

  • Do not engage in verbal conversation
  • Calmly repeat company policy
  • Do not stray from this script
  • Do not physically touch any of the protesters
  • Do not attempt to take posters or cameras away
  • Do not allow guests to verbally or physically engage

 After the Protest:

  • Do not further engage in conversation with guests about the occurrence
  • Apologize for the disruption
  • Ensure customer safety
  • Contact/update executives

Hard-hitting activist campaigns against big corporations have become part of the business landscape in 2018, but encountering activists doesn’t need to be an intimidating experience. Having a partner like DEVENEY to support your organization and devise a plan ensures that your best foot is forward when navigating the activism landscape.

Want to learn more? Join our conversation by tweeting us @DEVENEYMKTG.

 

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