There’s a culture war raging for our minds.
It’s the social justice warriors versus the populistic traditionalists. They consume much more than their fair share of the online agenda.
Where does this leave the rest of us?
Where does this leave regular businesses?
Let’s dive right into it:
The Just War
Today’s culture war is a jus bellum justum (a just war) for our moral values.
The just war theory dictates that “[… ] war, while terrible (but less so with the right conduct), is not always the worst option. Important responsibilities, undesirable outcomes, or preventable atrocities may justify war”.
And this culture war is spelling devastating consequences for businesses worldwide. Wokeness. Populism. De-platforming. Cancel culture. Political correctness. Bot attacks. Free speech infringements. Coordinated troll attacks. Reputation destruction.
Businesses are trying to rise to the challenge, but how?
To start, we need to understand this polarised media landscape.
Online Jurors and Judges
So, how should your business navigate this inflammatory culture war?
We can identify three critical online publics based on how they communicate their underlying moral philosophy. And they use the internet as their primary tool for organising themselves and exerting moral extortion.
Social justice warriors will not accept any perceived “injustice.” They regard themselves as morally superior and see all opponents as immediate threats to their convictions. According to this public, online aggression is an appropriate political expression (if perpetrated by themselves).
Read also: Woke is a Fucking PR Problem
Populistic traditionalists see “common sense” derived from generations of empirical moral insights to trump all other forms of discernment. They celebrate homogeneity and patriotism and are often religious. According to this public, online aggression is a proper political expression (if perpetrated by themselves).
Read also: How To Fight Populism
The silent majority are moderately invested in moral philosophy; they are more focused on making ends meet in their personal lives. They avoid taking any such aggressive stands—at least publicly. However, they continually “vote” online by clicking, watching, reading, and listening.
Read also: The Spiral of Silence
How should a brand navigate this culture war?
Either pick a side and stick with it—or steer clear?
The Art of Online Grandstanding
For any brand struggling with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues, it’s tempting to try and score quick points with short-lived public “outrages.”
Businesses that pose as beacons for moral modelling could gain traction with the chosen minority.
But does grandstanding make business sense?
From a public relations perspective, conflicts such as these could serve as fuel for media attention, but it’s far from evident that these brands will increase their market shares; the share-of-voice for the loudest agitators is rarely proportional to their actual numbers.
A recent example would be Gillette’s campaign, which attacked its customer base with accusations of not being accountable enough for toxic masculinity.
Investment advisor Jack Hough writes:
“That raises the question of whether Gillette’s financial results are suffering because of its toxic-masculinity misfire. On Tuesday, Procter & Gamble (PG) beat earnings and revenue forecasts, but the stock fell 3% on a day the S&P 500 closed at a new high.”
Most brands will likely do better if they realise that it’s not their core business to teach grown-ups about what constitutes moral behaviour.
Few ordinary businesses are suited to serve as mouthpieces for hundreds—or even thousands—of coworkers. Or customers, sometimes in their millions.
Like me, you probably have your moral convictions, but these convictions aren’t necessarily the right baseline for all corporate communications activities.
Moral Conformity and HR
Brands must stand for something and be brave enough to see these fights through. A brand must find its core message, which must resonate with owners, leaders, coworkers, and customers.
But the culture war isn’t just a PR challenge; the foundation for long-term strategic success in managing the organisational culture befalls HR, too.
HR is being encouraged to hire and fire with diversity in mind. But when it comes to moral convictions, diversity of thought suddenly becomes the no. 1 enemy of the HR department.
Today, HR must decide if they should hire and fire based on moral classification—or competence levels. It’s a tough choice for many.
The ability to find coworkers with highly compatible morals, yet are still highly diverse in every other way, is an impossible HR strategy.
How to Navigate the Culture War (and Avoid Cancel Culture)
Cancel culture can be a challenging PR problem:
“Cancel culture or call-out culture is a phrase contemporary to the late 2010s and early 2020s used to refer to a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles—whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those subject to this ostracism are said to have been ‘cancelled’.”
Source: Wikipedia 1Cancel culture. (2023, January 4). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancel_culture
Public opinion often forces brands to deplatform individuals, partner organisations, advertisers, collaborators, etc.
“Deplatforming, also known as no-platforming, has been defined as an ‘attempt to boycott a group or individual through removing the platforms (such as speaking venues or websites) used to share information or ideas, or “the action or practice of preventing someone holding views regarded as unacceptable or offensive from contributing to a forum or debate, especially by blocking them on a particular website’.”
Source: Wikipedia 2Deplatforming. (2023, January 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deplatforming
Here’s how to navigate the moral war as a business:
Read also: How To Navigate the Culture War
The High Road Tonality
An organisation is the total sum of all its coworkers. Imagine taking the most mature traits from each coworker and combining them into one voice — the high road tonality.