How to Approach Hard Topics with Compassion in Marketing
For what feels like the 417th time in recent memory, digital creators are feeling the pressure to show up for their audience while also processing devastating global events in real-time.
Should you post as usual? Not post at all? Talk about what’s happening? Pretend everything’s normal?
Is it wrong to post about tragedies alongside a perfectly filtered pic of yesterday’s boba tea or your version of the latest Reels trend? To put it simply, no, it’s not.
Is that really what social media’s for though?
Don’t make the mistake of brushing social media off as superficial.
Are there superficial aspects to it? Of course.
But people run entire businesses on social media. Dedicate careers to it. Form friendships across it. Learn and grow because of it. And most people spend at least some part of their day interacting with it. That’s not superficial.
Despite white supremacy and exploitative practices being a feature, not a bug, of its most popular platforms, social media has also been used effectively as a tool of resistance. It’s allowed historically marginalized voices to reach further and offered a more accessible path to connection and community.
So, if you’re wondering if your business’s social media profiles are an appropriate place to talk about your beliefs and values, my answer will always be an emphatic YES.
Even when new issues are emerging and your position on things may not feel solid, you can (and likely should) say something.
But I’m worried I’ll say the wrong thing…
Sure, you should be thoughtful when discussing sensitive topics.
But don’t let that stop you from saying something altogether.
Unfortunately, that’s where I think a lot of digital creators get stuck. They’re used to showcasing the brightest, shiniest aspects of themselves on social media. Sharing something that doesn’t fit that mold feels uncomfortable or even unsafe.
And, for those who get it wrong, the internet can be an unforgiving place. Sometimes rightfully so, sometimes not. Either way, speaking out on social media, especially if you haven’t done it before, can feel like a risk. But it’s one that, in my opinion, is worth taking.
So, while I don’t profess to be an expert on the subject, I’ve developed my own guidelines for approaching this particular challenge as a hyper-compassionate business owner and thought I’d share them with you.
Will some people disagree with me? Of course.
There are always going to be people out there that think you should’ve done more (or less). That’s just reality. If I’ve learned anything in my years in branding, it’s that you can’t please everyone, nor should you try!
I’m the type of person who’s always working to learn and grow and do better. And that’s all I can do.
Here’s what that looks like for me right now:
Sweet Tooth Creative’s
10 Dos & Don’ts
for Posting While the World Burns
1. Don’t assert false authority
If you’re not knowledgeable about something, don’t pretend to be. Nobody can be an expert on every topic and that’s okay.
You can still acknowledge injustice or the things your audience may be feeling in response to tragic events without knowing every detail and grasping every nuance.
2. Do be honest
If you’re feeling lost or confused or scared or angry it’s okay to say so. Today’s consumers don’t want the slick, corporate facades of decades past.
Modern audiences prize authenticity above all else. And sometimes that’s going to be messy and imperfect. Let it be.
3. Don’t sell while addressing an issue
This one is pretty simple. It’s icky. Don’t do it.
Posts talking about heavy things should focus only on those things. This is not an opportunity to make a sale. Don’t treat it like one.
Now, does that mean all social media marketing for your business needs to stop during these times? No. You can still promote your business. More on that in a sec.
4. Do refer back to your brand values
Trying to sell to your audience while addressing raw topics is inappropriate but leaning into the values that drive your business isn’t.
Taking the extra step to ask yourself “how do our brand values apply to this situation” isn’t opportunistic. It’s being intentional and ensures you’re meeting the moment with authenticity.
5. Don’t make it about you (unless it is)
If you have a personal connection to an issue and want to share it, you absolutely should. But trying to force one, even when well-intentioned, can feel insensitive and like you’re centering yourself.
It’s absolutely fine to say, “I have privileges that protect me from feeling the effects of this but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. I stand with you.”
6. Do share helpful information
Whether it’s trusted news sources, helpful breakdowns of the facts, or places to donate (vetted first, of course), this is a great time to amplify the voices of others who are doing important work.
7. Don’t get caught up in false dichotomies
A false dichotomy is a fallacy rooted in believing options are limited when they’re not.
Two statements that seem to contradict each other can both be true because the world is a complex place. Assuming if one is true the other must not be is a false dichotomy.
Can your actions as an individual alone solve big, systemic problems like white supremacy and imperialism? No. Does that mean those same actions are pointless and don’t help move us in the right direction? Also no!
Is whatever current event that’s weighing on us important and worth pausing to acknowledge? Yes. Do you still need to run your business and support yourself (because: capitalism)? Also yes!
8. Do take care of yourself
There’s a fine line between being passionate about an issue and being consumed by it. Everyone’s capacity is different and fluctuates depending on circumstances.
Dwelling, doomscrolling, and ignoring your own individual needs are surefire ways to burn out and we need to play the long game. So pay attention to what your body is telling you and take a step back if needed.
9. Don’t stop there
I said before that I disagree with those who undervalue the impact of social media. But that doesn’t mean uploading a few posts is all you should be doing.
Everyone’s activism looks different and not all avenues are accessible for everyone. Find the ones that work best for you and do as much as you can.
And, for my fellow white people, remember that there’s a difference between being unsafe and being uncomfortable. If we want to make a safer world for everyone, we have to be okay with being uncomfortable.
10. Do condemn injustice
Silence strengthens the oppressor. While I understand limiting the energy you dedicate to overwhelming topics in the name of self-care, absolute silence (while still posting about other things) implies agreement.
Unless it threatens our actual safety, the very least we can do is acknowledge and condemn injustice wherever and whenever we see it. Stand with your fellow humans like you would want them to stand with you.