Do You Wear the Ribbon?

“Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon. You must wear the ribbon.”

Whichever line reminds you of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer wouldn’t wear a red ribbon supporting Aids is something I think of often today. The advent of social media has made is so much easier to discuss people or companies who won’t do what others think they should do.

In the Seinfeld episode, a group of people chase after Kramer exclaiming how he must wear the ribbon and wondering who wouldn’t want to, etc. While watching you might laugh, albeit nervously, wondering how this became a television episode. If you aren’t familiar with the episode, take a break and watch it.

Today, however, it’s less a laughing matter. Social media has made it so much easier for groups of people to call out others because they don’t conform to what is supposed to be the norm. At least their norm. And, they don’t hesitate to call out companies whose business practices or beliefs might not be the same as theirs.

It’s no secret there have been some really terrifying moments in history lately. Every day there’s some sort of tragedy we are all sad about. It’s causing many to be numb and just not comment, while it’s causing others to become more enraged and ask for more and more discussion and involvement.

For companies, getting involved is a complicated conversation that involves a variety of leaders. It should always also involve strategic communications because it’s the communication professional’s job to understand what’s being asked of the company by its publics. It’s our responsibility to know what’s being said in the community and recommend ways to comment or be silent.

The timeframe is almost instantaneous anymore and I believe that’s a primary cause for many to just go silent. Maybe that’s what the so-called activists want. Again, it’s a complicated question for communicators who need to weigh pros and cons. It’s not always a conversation about stock prices, but it can quickly be one if the wrong decision is made.

As individuals, public relations professionals or otherwise, it’s time to take a step back. Slow down. Do a little research. Review both sides of an issue. Be thoughtful. All before engaging. Because if you don’t, you’re liable to make a move you might regret later.

Things to consider when you hear about something happening in the world:

  • What is the source?

  • How reliable is it?

  • Are other sources reporting the same thing?

  • How reliable are they?

  • Do the sources have enough facts?

  • Read beyond the lede.

  • Check other sources.

  • Strongly consider waiting a bit to discuss.

  • What might be the other side of the story?

  • Where could you get more information?

  • To whom should you talk/email?

  • How could joining the conversation now help/hurt my company/me?

  • What are the pros and cons of taking a quick, leadership position? 

  • What are the pros and cons of waiting? 

  • What could I gain/lose if I talk now and the facts change?

The next step is determining how what’s happening in the world should/shouldn’t change your current communications program. Several times I hear people saying they can’t believe brand X is still posting on social media after Y happened. What individuals fail to realize is that the world is bigger than what they see and maybe the company has a reason to continue business as usual. That’s why, before we judge others, we need to make sure we understand what’s happening.

There could be many reasons someone doesn’t “want to wear the ribbon.” We should respect them for that. Freedom of speech is terribly important today. But that’s a subject for another day.

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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