Same-sex marriage. Transgender issues. These are topics that have consumed our nation for years, but which recently reached a fever pitch in the media with Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, and the Supreme Court’s historic decision to make gay marriage legal.
As was to be expected, all that media coverage meant that businesses were bound to join the discussion, as well. After all, newsjacking is a tried and true technique for getting more clicks, more engagement, and more traffic. And with over 10 million people searching for “Caitlyn Jenner” on Google, according to Time Magazine, and hashtags like #lovewins and #loveislove not just trending, but exploding on Twitter (with #lovewins featured in 3.6 million tweets on the morning of the decision alone!), of course companies wanted a piece of the action.
But how appropriate is it for a business to publicly comment or take a stance on trending controversial social issues?
[Tweet “It’s one thing to use news in marketing, another to use a sensitive issue just to make a sale.”]
Businesses Getting It Wrong
Just about everyone would agree that it’s in poor taste to newsjack issues like these solely in order to draw in more website traffic or get more emails opened. An unfortunate example of this arrived in my inbox the other day. After receiving the following email…
I soon received this apology:
Obviously, the backlash to that newsjacking attempt was swift and vehement.
But what if you feel strongly about an issue, and genuinely want to share your stance with your audience?
How Your Company Can Get It Right
Any comment you make must be completely sincere, and completely divorced from any kind of sales pitch.
The companies that commented successfully on these topics weren’t trying to use the issue to sell their products or services. They were simply sharing their views, offering congratulations or clarifying their position.
Even that can be risky. By taking a stance on an issue that divides many Americans, you run the risk of alienating all those who espouse the opposite view. Boycotts and negative word of mouth can do significant damage to your bottom line. But then again, any negatives can be balanced out if supporters of your beliefs rally around in your defense.
Case in point? Remember the Chick-Fil-A brouhaha back in 2012? CEO Dan Cathy was quoted as saying that he supported traditional marriage and opposed same-sex marriage. Once it was also revealed that his company donated millions to organizations opposed to gay marriage, all bets were off. LGBT activists called for massive boycotts, while those in agreement with Dan Kathy staged massive “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation” events. The end result? Sales increased by about 12% following the controversy.
Highs and Lows From Social Media
So what about the companies that recently took to social media to celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage? For the most part, they managed to craft sincere, tasteful messages that steered clear of any self- promotion. Here are just two examples:
Some companies, however, couldn’t resist just a bit of advertising in their posts:
While these posts were not off-putting, even the slightest hint of self-promotion cheapens the message.
The Jury Is Still Out
Just like Chick-Fil-A’s CEO’s comments, many of these posts supporting gay marriage have generated plenty of debate among customers. Some same-sex marriage opponents are calling for boycotts, while supporters are lauding these companies’ statements. But we’re willing to bet that these companies will end up experiencing more positives than negatives from their posts. Why? Because for the most part, they were heartfelt, sincere, and genuine, not forced or self-promotional.
Regardless of which side of the issue you support, the key to successfully sharing your company’s views is just that. If you want to join an important national conversation, forget about sales, forget about self-promotion, and focus on the issue at hand. You may stir up some debate – but isn’t that what makes this country great? Our national conversations and debates are messy and noisy and heated – but like any big, boisterous family, we all come together again in the end.