In 2012 Twitter warriors and bored activists decided to go on attack against Chick-Fil-A over the opinion of the company’s founder. To summarize, he felt marriage should be defined as the union of one man and one women. Shouts of boycotts and threats of corporate subversion rang loud and proud through the halls of Hashtagtopia (a wonderous place full of experts on everything who overuse the words “literally” and “nazi”). At any rate, in the midst of the Twitter-led revolution against chicken sandwiches and yummy, yummy waffle fries, those in support of the chain rallied their friends and neighbors and turned out in droves to support the restaurant. As the IRL world collided with Hashtagtopia a reality set-in; social media boycotts aren’t all they are cracked up to be.
Recently we’ve seen #boycottHawaii, #boycottDelta, and of course #boycottMcDonals. It seems that regardless of your socio-political opinions, you can find one reason or another to leverage social media to “make a statement.” In most cases the online activism comes from a place of genuine disappointment over one decision or another, regardless of how petty. In other cases however the boycotts look more like the insane ramblings of a 3-year-old suffering from low blood sugar, or perhaps in need of a nap. And almost always they fail…biggly.
In fact, I may or may not be looking for Delta flights to Hawaii while eating McDonald’s at this very moment.
Point in fact, take the recent efforts to destroy Ivanka Trump’s business efforts all for the grievous sin of being born. A group of loosely affiliated idealogues created Grab Your Wallet.org to isolate and destroy any businesses she might have. The two most popular names associated with this boycott were Nordstrom and of course, her name’s sake brand. In a not-so-stunning revelation both Nordstrom and Ivanka posted higher sales in February 2017 despite the calls on social media to boycott both. So if the boycott brought us to this point, of what use was it? The answer: nothing. They were useless…unless you were Nordstrom or Ivanka in which case you just pulled another boatload of money out of port.
So what do we learn from these popular yet misguided efforts? The first lesson for businesses is, relax. Unless your business was caught red-handed running a child labor camp in the Tianjin province of China, you will more than likely survive the social media storm. That is not to say you won’t have to push-back a little, or fight for your brand. In fact, I’m of the opinion you should always have a plan ready to fight against false information and damaging propaganda. Remember, you can’t and should not try to engage every troll that comes along. If the “Great Troll Wars” taught us anything, it is that the trolls will persist…like cockroaches. They are not worthy of your time or effort. Coordinated, online disinformation is different and must be confronted in a determined, measured manner so as to avoid diminishing workplace moral and potential long-term branding damage.
For the online provocateurs who launch boycotts at even the whisper of social injustice; get used to disappointment. Online activism has yet to produce any meaningful changes in business or politics (still #feelingtheburn?). Social media has indeed given us all a platform larger than we could have ever built on our own, but with all that expanse, there is still very little depth. Online boycotts are fun to watch, but most people see them for what they are; a desperate temper tantrum.
On the other hand…if you need to increase sales, maybe a strategic boycott is just the thing you need!