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Cancel culture is one of the biggest challenges to the modern media landscape. When people are unhappy with a product, service, or company, they have more power than ever to voice their opinions online. But what happens when that opinion is shared with an audience so large that it can cause real damage to your reputation or brand? 

You could get cancelled

Cancelling online happens with lightning speed, so without any media monitoring system in place, your business could suffer irreparable financial and reputational damage. You might not always be able to avoid a cancelling crisis, but by using media intelligence, you can mitigate the effects and provide the right responses at the right time.

What is Cancel Culture and how can it affect you?

Cancel Culture is a contemporary social phenomenon in which individuals or entities are publicly criticised, boycotted, or ostracised due to perceived offensive behaviour or statements, often facilitated through social media platforms. During a cancelling crisis, it is more than possible for yesterday’s fans to become today’s foes as they join group shaming and withdraw their support. 

For example, back in 2020, popular talk show host Ellen DeGeneres received social media backlash for allegations of fostering a toxic work environment on her show. To add to the turmoil, users started circulating controversial videos from her talk show in which she allegedly made celebrities such as Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, and Dakota Johnson feel uncomfortable. As a result, Ellen’s show saw a dip in ratings, eventually leading to its cancellation in May 2022

Cancel culture can have far-reaching negative effects and can lead to:

  • Reputational damage;
  • Customer boycotts;
  • Drop in employee morale;
  • Decline in company stock price and financial performance;
  • Loss of business partnerships; 
  • Legal and regulatory issues;
  • Long-term brand image impact.

Media Intelligence as a shield for reputation redemption

Here are six (6) ways media intelligence can become your ally during a cancelling crisis and help you defend and recover your reputation.

1. Proactive reputation management

Your crisis management plan should include constant media monitoring even when the social media seas appear calm. Nothing good comes out from being unprepared and sadly, cancel culture is not always just. Sometimes, it does get out of hand and, as Rowan Atkinson once described it, it is the “digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn.”

Media intelligence empowers individuals and brands to stay ahead of the curve by proactively monitoring conversations and sentiments circulating online. It is always good to know what is being said about you or your company because it enables you to gauge public perception, identify potential PR pitfalls, and take corrective actions before a situation escalates into a full-blown cancellation campaign against you.

2. Cultural-sensitive research

Back in 2018, the Italian luxury fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana received backlash for a racially insensitive ad campaign that featured a Chinese woman struggling to eat pizza, spaghetti and an oversized cannoli with chopsticks. The brand had to cancel its biggest show of the year in Shanghai, as many Chinese celebrities and models boycotted the event and terminated their contracts with the brand. It also faced a drop in sales and a damaged reputation in China, one of its largest markets.

One of the biggest advantages of having a media monitoring strategy in place is that it enables you to research trends and learn about different cultures. If your company operates internationally, chances are that you are missing a lot of cultural insights that could help you create better marketing and PR campaigns. Having culturally aware analysts who speak the languages of your target markets can help you prevent making culturally insensitive content.

3. Real-time Crisis Detection

Media intelligence tools offer real-time insights into emerging crises, which is very important for your PR team because they need to be the first ones to know when something is brewing against you online. In 2017, Nivea made the mistake of launching a deodorant ad in the Middle East with the slogan “White is Purity”. The campaign was quickly criticised for being racist and insensitive, and it was also hijacked by white supremacists who praised the ad and posted hateful comments on social media.

In cases like this, when the controversy quickly spirals out of control, having access to real-time data can help you swiftly respond with a well-crafted crisis management strategy. You can issue an apology, which is what Nivea did, and take corrective actions to address the concerns.

In essence, media intelligence offers the capability to stay attuned to unfolding issues, enabling brands to take informed and timely measures that demonstrate a proactive stance toward resolving controversies and safeguarding their reputation.

4. Sentiment Analysis

If your brand is currently engulfed in a cancellation controversy and you have already taken corrective measures, your first question will be: “How are our responses received? Are they appeasing the public or do they further fuel their anger?” Media intelligence tools leverage sentiment analysis to decipher public sentiment towards a brand or individual. Sentiment analysis can help you assess how your crisis management efforts are being received by the public. You can see whether the conversations are shifting towards a more positive end or if they are still in the red. More importantly, monitoring changes in sentiment over time can provide early warnings of a potential cancellation storm brewing, enabling preemptive actions.

5. Identifying Key Influencers and Stakeholders

Although cancellations are the result of a massive number of users pouring from any corner of the world, there are always influencers or public figures who hold massive power over the tide’s flow. Media intelligence helps identify influential voices in cancel-culture discussions based on their reach as well as engagement rate. By understanding who the key players are, individuals and brands can engage in meaningful dialogues, address concerns, and potentially mitigate negative perceptions.

Media intelligence can also help you find the right influencers for your brand by identifying your key stakeholders as well as profiling your target audiences. Sometimes, taking a progressive approach might seem like the right step, but it might backfire if your customer base is not ready or willing to welcome it. Bud Light learned this the hard way after experiencing backlash from its conservative customers in the US for featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney in an ad campaign back in April 2023. Not only did the brand lose its number one spot as the best-selling beer in the country, but the partnership also reflected negatively on Dylan Mulvaney who reported to have been scared to leave the house.

6. Monitoring Competitor Strategies

Media intelligence allows you to see how your competitors navigate cancellation, so you can adapt your strategies accordingly. Learning from others’ experiences can provide insights into effective crisis management. More importantly, your competitor’s crisis can become an opportunity for you to send out the right messages and increase your share in the market. 

Back in 2018, H&M faced a customer boycott over a racist hoodie advertising campaign that featured a black child wearing a jumper with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle”. The outrage spread like wildfire across social media, with many celebrities supporting the boycott and condemning H&M’s racial insensitivity. Not only did H&M apologise, but it also hired a diversity leader to improve its sensitivity and inclusiveness.

By following the media conversations and monitoring your competitors’ actions, you can learn what to avoid and what to implement in your communication strategy.

The Cancel Culture Dilemma

When you find yourself embroiled in a cancellation nightmare, usually you have one of three choices:

  1. Stay silent;
  2. Defend yourself and present evidence;
  3. Accept responsibility, apologise immediately, and take corrective action.

We will not even entertain the first choice because hiding under a rock in hopes of weathering the storm has never really worked. Avoiding responding and/or taking a side can damage your brand reputation and lead to loss of credibility with your stakeholders by appearing indifferent or complicit to the problem. 

Depending on why you are getting cancelled, by choosing to engage in defence, you might either redeem yourself if you have enough evidence to deny the accusations, or you risk worsening the situation by appearing insensitive, arrogant, or out of touch with the social issue or the public sentiment. Before deciding to stand up for yourself, make sure you have analysed the media conversations and understand exactly why people are railing against you.

Usually, accepting responsibility and apologising is the way to go, but not every situation has a simple solution. In the example of Bud Light discussed above, a direct apology would have appeased conservatives but angered the LGBTQ+ community. In the end, the delayed neutral response by Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Brendan Whitworth about how the brand: ‘never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people” did not appease any side.

How can Media Intelligence preserve your public image?

As cancel culture continues to evolve, the integration of media intelligence into crisis management strategies is a proactive step towards resilience in the face of digital scrutiny. By harnessing the power of data-driven insights, real-time monitoring, and sentiment analysis, you can both safeguard your reputation and navigate the treacherous waters of cancel culture with confidence. Contact A Data Pro to learn how you can be in the loop and know everything that is being said about you.

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