In the age of social media, every brand has a platform. Whether you're posting for an audience of hundreds or millions, your business has the power to share your messaging far and wide. And, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.

2020 has come with lots of challenges, from a global pandemic and a suffering economy to instances of racial violence that simply can't be ignored. Has your business been making use of its platform to help or hinder people during these turbulent times? Have you been looking inward and then speaking out? Or not saying anything at all?

Responding to a crisis of any kind is delicate work for businesses. Along with brands worldwide, we at Chatfuel scrambled to pivot when COVID-19 erupted into a pandemic. We adapted our strategy and created programs and resources to help our community. And now, in the face of racial injustice, we and many other businesses are asking ourselves:

  • What role should we be playing in this movement?
  • How can we best use our voice right now?
  • What's the responsibility of a company like ours in times like these?
  • What does it look like for us to make a meaningful contribution to this conversation and movement?

Finding answers to these questions is a process. Like many brands, we've begun this process by stopping to listen before we use our platform to talk. First, we realized we could do a better job of amplifying Black voices in the marketing space. Chatfuel has customers across the globe who build bots for users across the globe. Failing to represent that rich diversity does a disservice to our community, and that changes now.

We've committed to doing the work to educate ourselves. We've also reached out to people of color in the marketing space, to invite them to share their viewpoint to help us all evolve. We learned so much from our conversation with Stephanie Caudle, PR expert and founder of Black Girl Group, we knew it was important that we share these insights with our audience here too. While we focused on ecommerce brands in this conversation, Stephanie's advice can easily apply to businesses of all types.

"Saying nothing is not the answer."

Like many brands, we worried about what statement to make to our audience on this topic, because we feared saying the wrong thing. Stephanie explains why it's not okay to stay silent because of that fear:

Saying nothing is not the answer. As a publicist, I tell clients: Saying "no comment" is making a comment. If you're not speaking up, you're saying a lot to your consumers and customers, saying that you really don't care about the issues at hand. I think that's very important for brands who are afraid to speak out to keep in mind: By not saying anything, you're making a very loud statement. I heard someone say on social media: "To all those brands who are being silent: We hear you loud and clear." And that's true. We're watching our favorite brands right now to see who's talking and who's not.

I think a lot of brand are afraid to get it wrong. But if you think about when the coronavirus first hit, there were a lot of companies who had commercials on TV what felt like instantly. Everyone had a message for this, because the coronavirus was a humanity issue. Well, Black lives being taken on TV and behind the scenes: That's a humanity issue too. And if you're afraid to speak out against a humanity issue, that's a problem. You might get it wrong, but you can't risk not saying anything at all.

But that doesn't mean brands should be making statements without doing the research and getting feedback first. Stephanie shares her advice:

If you are afraid you might be getting it wrong, now's the time to tap into your diversity and inclusion offices, to reach out to your employee resource groups. If you're not big enough, feel free to reach out to some of your other colleagues: Does this sound okay? What are your thoughts? Can you give me some feedback? But definitely do not run the risk of saying nothing at all.

You might get it wrong, but you can't risk not saying anything at all.

The importance of choosing language carefully

Stephanie points out how important it is for brands to choose the right language as they speak out to show their support for racial justice:

One thing that I've seen is that lots of brands have said, "We stand with the people of color who work with us." I think brands should not be afraid to say, "We stand with our Black colleagues, professionals, employees." There are so many brands and people in general who are afraid of those terms because they don't want to come off as insensitive.

I think it's super important that you make that very clear, because people of color is not monolithic; we are not all the same. It's important to be very clear and not be afraid to say Black, don't be afraid to say African American.

Brands should not be afraid to say, "We stand with our Black colleagues, professionals, employees."

Key elements of a sincere, impactful brand statement

Some brand responses to the Black Lives Matter movement have been recognized as well done and especially powerful. Stephanie lists some of her favorites, and points out why they're so meaningful:

I've really been so, so proud of Nike and Ben & Jerry's. The reason I feel they got it right is because they've been doing the work already for many years. They've been highlighting the importance of Black lives, they've been highlighting police brutality, they've been highlighting systemic racism for years. So now, they're able to not only put out a statement, but to have actionable items behind it.
Ben & Jerry's released a formal statement with action items, and offers many other resources for education on racial equality on their website.

Not only did Ben & Jerry's release their statement, but they gave 15-20 points of action that they're implementing today on how they can help in this fight against racism, and so did Nike.

Nike released this video along with a formal statement.

So I think it's bigger than just making a statement. It's about: What will you do whenever the news stops talking about this? What will you do when it's no longer an opportunity for you to gain visibility through PR by speaking out? What will you do when ten years have passed, and we haven't gotten anywhere yet—will you still be in the fight with us, or will you be back to business as usual? If you're going to make that decision, I think you should be committed to it forever, and not just in this current moment.

There's a time for selling, and there's a time for listening

Adaptability as a brand means being able to pivot your strategy to respond to changes in the world. Charging onward with your previous plans when times have changed can make your brand come off as tone-deaf and insensitive. Stephanie urges ecommerce brands to take current events into account when planning product launches especially:

I had a friend who reached out to me last week, and she said she was looking to launch a new product. And I said, the world is in flames right now—you cannot afford to launch a product right now. No one's going to see it. The news cycle is crazy: You have the coronavirus, you have the protests, you have Black men and women being killed on national TV. The world is not going to care about your product right now—it can wait.

And this doesn't just apply in the case of George Floyd, but in the case of anything major happening in the world. So when we first had COVID-19 coming out—in that first week after most of us were locked down, no one should've been releasing a new product instantly if it didn't have anything to do with solving a problem related to COVID.

I think it's important for ecommerce brands to keep that in mind when we're dealing with a crisis. Now is not a time for you to be selling. Now's a time for you to be listening, and to be figuring out ways you can give back to so many hurting communities right now.

Now is not a time for you to be selling. Now's a time for you to be listening.

Speaking to your target audience in marketing materials

Part of this continuing work going forward for brands is making inclusivity the default. Stephanie reminds us that, if you're marketing to all ethnicities, your materials should portray all ethnicities:

I definitely think that brands need to make sure they're diversifying their photos, if they're using any. Because photos do matter, especially whenever you're trying to cater to all ethnicities.

Unfortunately, I've discovered that there are just not that many good stock photos of other ethnicities out there. So I think that's a bigger problem out there that needs to be addressed. But one site I will recommend is Unsplash. It's free stock photography, and they've done an incredible job of making sure they have diverse images out there.
Stephanie recommends Unsplash as a source for diverse stock images your business can use for free.

And I think it's okay for you to utilize images that reflect the audience that you'e trying to reach. Because at the end of the day, if I see a representation of someone who looks like me—even if they're not the same race as me, but maybe if it's a mom or a jogger, if I feel like I can connect on some level with that person—then yes, I'll be more prone to buy from them. Because I'll think, Hey, they thought about me when creating this ad. And I think the same applies from a racial standpoint. If you want to make sure you're targeting effectively, then you've got to show your consumers someone who looks like them too.

What it means to make donations with sincerity

Donating to organizations that are working towards racial justice is, of course, a great way to show support. However, Stephanie warns against using your brand's contributions for the publicity:

I see a lot of ecommerce brands doing this—and it's okay, because you have time to fix this, but I encourage you: Please do not have a sale, and then agree to donate a portion of your sales to Black Lives Matter, or to X organization. And the reason why I say that is: If you're having a sale, and that's the only way you can donate, it appears that you're using this whole movement as a way to profit, as a way to capitalize off of what's happening, to say "Hey, if you buy from me, then I'll donate."

If you're sincere about what you're doing, you don't need sales in order for you to be able to donate. Go ahead and donate now, without the sales. Because at the end of the day, you cannot, as a brand, afford for people to see that you're profiting off a Black life being taken. That's not okay, and that comes off as being very racially insensitive.

What brands and individuals can contribute besides donations

Financial donations are an important part of fueling real change. But Stephanie also identifies other contributions ecommerce brands and individuals can make to support and positively impact this movement:

Rome wasn't built in a day. It's one piece at a time. So do a little bit, just do what you can. Even as an ecommerce company: Maybe you have expertise and knowledge that you can share with someone else. Sharing knowledge is also a way for you to empower other people. It's not always about the exchange of funds. Sometimes it's exchanging what's [in your mind]. Because I may not know what you know, so sometimes if you can share that information, you're also contributing to that change.

And on social media: If you see something that's important, like a fund or an organization that's doing incredible work, it's okay. Amplify those voices. Let other people in your network know they exist. We can't assume we all have the same timelines on social media, so you opt to share. It's the little things that make a big difference right now, and I don't think we should limit ourselves to just the financial resources.

Sharing knowledge is also a way for you to empower other people.

Chatbots sharing racial justice information:

Organizations to follow and/or consider donating to:

Business resources:

Continuing the work from here

Stephanie encourages businesses to continue educating themselves and doing the work and the research, and she offers her help:

I know that we've all had to have some tough conversations over the last several weeks. But at the end of the day, these tough conversations are what help us heal, and are also what help us evolve as a nation and as people. And I think now is the time for the evolution—we've got to evolve. If I can be a part of that conversation, I'm happy to help any way I can.

You can visit Stephanie's website for Black Girl Group, a freelance staffing agency that connects Black female creatives with companies. Find her on Twitter at @blackgirlgroup and on Instagram at @blackgirlgroupllc.

At Chatfuel, we recognize that the fight for racial equality requires continuous support from all of us. We're committed to doing our part to evolve, and we're grateful to Stephanie for providing her insights and her guidance to help us and our audience on the way.

You can watch Stephanie's appearance on our Chatfuel School web show, along with others in the marketing and chatbot industry who agreed to chat with us on this topic. ⤵️