The overturning of Roe v. Wade – a 1973 landmark decision by the US Supreme court that granted the right to have an abortion – created a huge ripple effect in the media, heightening the discussion about corporate responsibility and companies’ response to social issues.
Social issues such as abortion laws highlight the need for brands to consistently monitor media conversations to ensure a timely and effective response to any crisis management threat.
A little less than a month before the decision was overturned on 24 June 2022, we analysed 714,411 social media posts and 29,688 traditional media publications related to US abortion laws, published between May 2021 and May 2022.
Here are six lessons brands can learn from our analysis:
1. Always follow the main conversation drivers
Monitoring conversation drivers of social nature is a must because they directly influence the labour force.
Companies perceived as unsupportive of their employees are at a higher risk of suffering blows to their reputation as corporate activists urge them to take action. The two major events that drove the discussion around abortion laws and their impact on the corporate world in the United States were the abortion restrictions imposed by the Texas Heartbeat Act, which came into effect on 1 September 2021, and the Supreme Court abortion draft opinion to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that was leaked in May 2022.
The leaking of the draft opinion caused concerns about data privacy. This increased the distrust in social media platforms, period-tracking apps, and other kinds of tech companies collecting information about the reproductive health of their users. If your company works with such data, you might be on the brink of facing a crisis communication threat.
2. Take a clear stance on social matters to gain public support
In September 2021, a number of companies, including Uber and Lyft, as well as dating apps Match and Bumble, announced their support for people needing or providing abortion care. Domain registrar GoDaddy also showed support by taking down the website of a Texas anti-abortion group. Later in the month, 50 of the biggest companies in Texas signed a letter criticising Governor Abbott’s ban on abortion.
In May 2022, the list of companies taking initiatives to support employees affected by abortion restrictions expanded to include (among others) Levi Strauss & Co., Microsoft, Apple, Tesla, Amazon, Yelp, Citigroup, Salesforce, Starbucks, and Mastercard.
3. Remain consistent: your messaging should match your actions
Amazon was the most controversial company, targeted by pro-life and pro-choice supporters. The company announced that it would provide financial help for up to USD 4,000 to people seeking out-of-state medical help, including abortions. The company was simultaneously praised and criticised as many misinterpreted the act and called out the company for being “not pro-choice” but “pro-abortion”. However, news reports revealed that Amazon had been donating to anti-abortion political committees since 2016, showcasing the company’s lack of consistency.
In January 2022, The hashtag #BoycottPepsi trended worldwide as social media users called for a boycott of PepsiCo. News reports revealed that the company donated thousands to Texas Republicans after the law banning abortions was passed.
4. Silence will not exempt you from backlash
While some big companies such as Microsoft and Lyft openly promised to help employees seeking or providing abortion care, many companies chose to remain silent. In May 2022, PR firm Zeno Group, which represents high-profile corporations like Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Starbucks, privately advised its clients to remain silent on the issue.
Exxon Mobile was one of the companies that chose to remain silent. In September 2021, the company was targeted by the #BoycottTexas Movement on Twitter, with activists calling for a boycott on big Texas-based companies. According to The National Lincoln Project, companies like Exxon are forcing their employees to live in a repressive state. By choosing to remain in Texas, they are sending “a message louder than any statement of corporate value.”
The leading company on the Fortune 500 list, Walmart also stayed silent after the draft was leaked and was soon portrayed as an anti-abortion supporter for donating over one million dollars to anti-abortion political committees since 2016.
5. Consider the long-term effects of picking a side
Social issues affect the corporate world. While it is understandable that many companies wanted to avoid stepping on political landmines and angering stakeholders, corporate social responsibility experts advised that regardless of their concerns about their image, companies should “address the issue of reproductive rights head on.” The longer companies take to make a stand, the bigger the chance of credibility loss.
According to a poll by PerryUndem, Texas’ restrictive abortion law could lead to a loss of college-educated skilled workers. Texas’ abortion law makes a huge impact on companies as tech workers now reconsider moving to the southern state, where multinationals such as Oracle, Tesla, Meta Platforms, Inc. (referred to as Facebook), Amazon and Apple are situated.
6. Stay on top of the main discussion themes
Timely monitoring of traditional and social media can give you invaluable insights into the main discussion themes as well as highlight public opinion about your company amid an avalanche of mentions.
In terms of volume, our analysis showed that discussions about abortion laws that involved companies mainly fell into four top themes:
Companies supporting abortion
Companies such as Tesla, Apple, Microsoft, Uber and Lyft stated that they would cover expenses for their employees who decide to get an abortion, while other companies like Bumble and Match are kick-starting funds to help Texans gain access to abortion services.
Companies supporting the ban
The second most discussed topic concerned donations made by big companies to anti-abortion political committees. Although some of these companies either remained silent on the issue or promised to assist employees affected by the abortion restrictions, all were manifested as supporters of the ban. The most cited names came from a list put together by Popular Information, which revealed donations made by Amazon, AT&T, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, CVS Health, Google, Walmart, and Verizon over the years to politicians in favour of the abortion ban.
Companies remaining silent
Many companies said they had been advised by PR agencies to remain silent on abortion in order to avoid backlash from either side. According to data by Harris Poll, 54% of the surveyed Americans said that it was more challenging than rewarding for CEOs to speak out on social issues. Demographically younger people, however, found it more rewarding.
“If men” threads
Finally, a discussion was formed on the hypothetical situation that men would be the ones to get abortions and how much easier access would then be, as well as how it would not be up for political debate.
How can you develop the best monitoring strategy?
The best step a brand can take to ensure its response is as effective as possible is to continuously monitor the news and social media networks surrounding potential crises.
Online discussions about social issues influence your employees, converting seemingly distant escalations into something you should concern yourself about.
With social listening solutions becoming increasingly sophisticated about monitoring different platforms for content, brands have more access than ever before to timely and quality data relevant to a crisis (or potentially looming threat).
When those discussions are negative, businesses need to be ready to respond; and A Data Pro is here to help. Check out more about our media intelligence reports.