Being Woke: How to Use Social Media Activism to Build Your Brand

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Being Woke: How to Use Social Media Activism to Build Your Brand

For those not in the know, usually those above a certain age range, the slang term ‘woke’ refers to an awareness of issues of social injustices across society. If used in a sentence, it would go something like this; “Neo was all woke after he choose Morpheus’ red pill”. The use of the term originates from the charismatic African-American musician Erykah Badu to describe her refusal to comply with the status quo of black people in America, and blew up particularly during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s a truth that everything in 2018 is politicized, it’s almost impossible for brands to consistently stay neutral given how almost everything can be divided into politically correct and incorrect. In the past, this situation is precarious as brands have to be able to safely tiptoe across everything in fear of offending certain sections of their customers. However, I would very much like to go the opposite route and tell you how being ‘woke’ on social media, apologies beforehand for the blatant cultural appropriation, could actually help your brand immensely.

Activism as a marketing campaign

To begin with, let’s talk about Nike. Even among other culturally relevant companies, Nike in particular stands out thanks to their simple, brilliant marketing. The ‘Just Do It’ tagline, even 30 years after it was first introduced, remains one of the most recognizable slogans anywhere. Additionally, it still remains impossible for me to not think about Nike or Michael Jordan without picturing the iconic Air Jordan logo in mind, they’re just that inseparable for me.

In September this year, Nike started another one of their ‘Just Do It’ campaign, this time focusing on Colin Kaepernick. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, you’re not alone, he just doesn’t have the same cultural cachet as Michael Jordan but Nike’s decision is also notable for one other reason, Colin Kaepernick is a highly ‘controversial’ figure. I’m going to be focusing on his work with Nike, but if you’re interested or just in need of some background info, there is tons of information you could look up to concerning the man himself.

To say that the reception to the campaign has been divisive would be an understatement, especially when it comes to sport, long thought to be the one uniting institution on countries all over the world. To wit, the perversion of Nike’s tagline into the #JustBurnIt campaign, where people post videos and pictures of them literally burning their Nike products. On the other hand, Nike is literally drowning in cash from all the products they’ve been selling since the campaign started, contrary to what a certain hairtastic President might say in his medium of choice.

Of course, this is far from surprising. ‘Wokeness’, which is definitely not a word I just invested just now, has been a strong concern for millenials in the past few years, with 73% of millenials stating that business must have a potential impact on society. This reason is partly why the electric car manufacturer Tesla could command such attention in the headlines; millenials are simply drawn to progressive companies such as these. If it’s normal for companies in the 20th century to try to be as apolitical as possible, the opposite is now completely true.

Using activism in your marketing

Nike is just one example of course but I would also like to point out one other company who successfully wade into the debate without actually picking a side. Last year, Heineken released a Worlds Apart ad, featuring people from both sides of the political spectrum who decided to try and bridge their difference over a conversation, a carpentry project and of course, a beer or two. The Heineken is more socially aware instead of socially active but I feel like it’s still something worth mentioning.

It probably won’t be a stretch for me to assume that you, a fully functional human being living in 2018, would probably have some opinions on certain things. It would also easy to assume that there would be other people around you that share the same views. Whenever you’re planning to plan your marketing strategy, try to include some of those views on your marketing materials. It doesn’t even have to be politically correct for it to succeed. Plenty of public figures and politicians, most recently Brazilian’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, won the election by being as politically incorrect as they can be and running an election is quite similar to running a marketing campaign anyway.

Use social media to amplify your message

Once you’ve found a cause worth supporting, don’t be shy about voicing your support on social media as long as you maintain the good vibes. Supporting a cause does not mean you have to belittle everything on the opposite sides. Nike’s decision to stand with Colin Kaepernick isn’t mean to discredit the NFL or the United States’ national anthem and flag; it’s merely to support one man’s right to voice his opinion even if it meant losing his job, something that his critics tend to miss entirely.

Take things one step further by not just being ‘woke’ with your marketing but also by being ‘woke’ with your products and then use social media to promote those products. Because of how social media works, it’s entirely possible for your message to be amplified by other supporters of the same cause, which could lead your company to go viral. It is of course, quite easy to describe this as simply your company riding the bandwagon but if it’s a cause you actually believe in, then why not?