In June 2020, individuals and companies across the United States were praised for utilizing social media to speak out against racial injustice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. This was one of the largest, most unified acts of solidarity I’ve ever seen, and I was proud to be part of one among many organizations that supported the cause. However, the fight for justice and equality does not stop as the social media buzz dies down and the news cycles move on. The public continues to push businesses to support these social movements at all levels.
On the other hand, I look back to June 2019, when many for-profit companies were criticized for using pride month as a marketing scheme rather than honestly supporting the community. Justice Namaste, a freelance social media coordinator for WIRED, described this practice as “Rainbow Washing.” Companies that rainbow wash show outward, visible support for the LGBTQ+ community without committing to any tangible support such as donating to LGTBQ+ organizations or empowering LGBTQ+ employees. The same type of criticism has fallen on companies who have posted about the Black Lives Matter movement, but have not walked the walk in terms of company practices and internal culture changes.
That leads to my question: how can for-profit companies commit themselves to social impact in honest and impactful ways? Through the chaos, how can everyone from small businesses to large corporations play a meaningful part in social movements such as Black Lives Matter. Through my research, I came across these four substantive ways to commit to authentic social impact.
1. Use your platform
As a for-profit company, you may have a sizable social following that many nonprofits and charities don’t have. Even if your company’s mission doesn’t revolve around a specific social or environmental issue, use your platform to highlight the good works others are doing. Elevating the voices of knowledgeable social justice leaders and advocates is easier than creating your own content, and it’s often more accurate and helpful in the long run. In addition, younger consumers, are more likely to be conscious about sustainability and spending their money with companies they believe in. Not only are you raising awareness by supporting causes you care about, but if your company’s target audience skews younger than 35, it’s also a smart business decision.
2. Be transparent
We have all been told that once something is on the internet, it will never go away. Social media makes it almost too easy to catch someone in a lie, and information can spread like wildfire. The last thing you want is to seem disingenuous, or lose current customers. If you only have one person of color on your team, don’t claim to be diverse. Same goes for only employing one woman in a male-dominated field. Focus on substantive, systematic change in place of aesthetics. If you still have work to do as a company, admit the area of fault and define concrete measures to remedy it, rather than misrepresenting your place in that movement.
3. Avoid performative actions
Like I mentioned earlier, many companies came under fire in June 2019 for displaying Pride-themed apparel and products without putting company dollars towards LGBT+ causes and charities. It’s great to use your platform to share messages you believe in, but before moving ahead, ask the question: “Is this action serving me/my business, or is it serving the cause I care about?” It’s great if the answer is both, but it’s not okay if the action is simply serving your brand. If you’re unsure, add a more meaningful element such as a donation, or potentially back off altogether to rethink your plan.
4. Do good when no one is watching
At the end of the day, a lot of the progress towards issues like racial justice and equality will take place outside of social media and marketing campaigns. Push yourself and your employees to engage in hard conversations, review internal practices and distinguish more equitable opportunities, and consistently give back to your community with time and talents.
In summary, uplift others and be sincere. My list is not exhaustive, but it’s an opportunity to grow and challenge your company to do better. Social impact is an ever-learning, evolving entity, and while I don’t have all the answers, the resources are available for those honestly looking to commit. Remember, you don’t have to be a non-profit organization to have a positive impact on your world. Now go out and put in the work!