About The Author
Ashley Olive

As Phase 3's lead social media expert, Ashley drives brand awareness for clients primarily in the lifestyle industry, focusing on influencer relations, social media content creation and media relations. Her clients include Avocet Hospitality, Hansgrohe, Just Salad, Backyard Burger, Emmy Squared Pizza, Beechwood Homes, and Northeastern University. Ashley received her Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Journalism from Queens University in Charlotte. She excels in combining the latest trends with a client’s vision to create campaigns that are relevant and unique.

Navigating Social Media in our Hyper-Sensitive World

By Ashley Olive
March 16, 2023



Social media can be a minefield for brands that don't pay attention to the world around them. A case in point is the backlash Tarte Cosmetics recently experienced when they sponsored a trip to Dubai for 50 influencers and their friends. The lavish all-expenses-paid trip included an Emirates business class flight, a three-day stay in a private villa, parties, excursions, and free products from Tarte and other brands. In return, Tarte asked (but did not pay) the influencers to post about the trip and Tarte products on their Instagram and TikTok accounts. The trip's goal was to generate interest and engagement for Tarte online. Tarte accomplished that goal, but probably not in the way they had hoped. Most of the online conversation regarding this trip was negative. People were outraged at the extravagance, given the current economic climate. Many posted that Tarte was being tone-deaf and wasteful -- not good optics for the brand.


The best intentions are not an excuse for social media campaigns gone wrong. Smart social media managers understand that today’s “cancel culture” and hyper-awareness of social issues like diversity, inclusion, and equity necessitates a thoughtful and strategic focus for every social media post published under a brand’s name.

So, how can brands avoid this dangerous minefield? There are several strategies every social media team working for a brand should take.


Know Your Brand

You can only accurately tell your story if you understand your brand. Your brand is your company's DNA and the reputation your company depends on to grow and thrive. Here are Phase 3, we ask every client to undergo a brand assessment with our team at the start of our engagement so that we can be good stewards of their mission, vision, values, history, and purpose.

When doing a brand assessment, it’s critical that you can authentically and thoughtfully answer these questions:

  • How do you describe your brand?

  • Who is your target customer?

  • What are your core values?

  • What is your core mission?

  • What is unique about your brand?

  • What is your brand’s personality?

  • What is your brand’s purpose? 

Know When to Take a Stand (or Not)

It's also important to decide how to position your brand's messaging on hot-topic issues like politics, social justice, and DEI. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Does your brand attract a specific demographic that is part of a hot-button issue?

  • Do your brand values alienate certain consumers?

  • Will your brand messaging alienate certain consumers? If so, do you care?

  • Do you want your brand to be connected to a hot-button issue in the minds of consumers? 

It's ok to take a stand on issues that your leaders care about or may be important to your target audience. Don't shy away if political affiliations or social justice stances are woven into your brand identity and customer base. Embrace them and integrate them into your brand messaging. Some examples of brands that do this well are Patagonia and Ben & Jerry's. Just know that you may alienate some people. No brand can be everyone's cup of tea.


Look Around You

The first and most important thing any brand marketer should do before posting to social media is to take the temperature of society THAT VERY DAY. We live in a world with a 24-hour news feed, and consumer sentiment can change minute-to-minute. It's essential to have a pulse on what is happening in the world at any given time. Bad timing can kill a good marketing campaign – just look at the Tarte story. That influencer trip might have earned Tarte a ton of positive PR had it happened when consumer spending was up, and people felt good about the economy.  

Brand marketers and communicators must learn to read the room. The last thing you want is for your brand to come across as tone-deaf, insensitive, culturally inept, or just out of touch. This is the quickest way to get your brand canceled.


What to Do When You Do Speak Out

Is there a time when it makes sense for your brand to speak out? That depends on several factors. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the issue directly affect your employees or your customers?

  • Does speaking out feel authentic to your brand’s values?

  • Do you have C-suite buy-in?

  • Is this a knee-jerk reaction because competitors are doing it, or do you have something positive to contribute?

  • Are you and your business prepared for some people to disagree with you? 

If the answer to these questions is ‘yes,’ work with your PR and crisis management team to craft a careful and thoughtful response.


Have a Crisis Communication Plan

If your company is experiencing a very public crisis, it is most likely in your best interest to speak out. Therefore, you should have a crisis communication plan in place before you need it. Your crisis communications plan must include instructions on communicating your position via both traditional and nontraditional communication channels like social media.


For any crisis communication, transparency and quick action are critical. Consumers are savvy enough to see through phony and forced statements that mean nothing, i.e., "thoughts and prayers." People feel empowered on social media to make themselves heard and demand action. They will not settle for the usual tropes.


Ignoring a crisis that directly affects your brand can be a cancelable offense. How often have we seen the notes on social media saying, "The silence of {INSERT BRAND NAME HERE} is deafening.”? However, be very careful with the timing of your statement. Making a statement too soon can be risky if you do not have all the information you need to respond appropriately. Regardless of the content and timing of your statement, you will be on the receiving end of a consumer response and you may open the door for negative debate and criticism. Be ready for it and have a plan on how (or if) you will respond.


Find a Third-Party Crisis Communication Partner

You may want to bring in a PR firm experienced in crisis communications like Phase 3, especially if you feel your team and leaders are too close to your brand and need an expert guide in today's hyper-sensitive world.


The Phase 3 PR and social media team are adept at protecting and promoting our clients' image. We know how to mitigate risk, respond during a crisis, and think through every detail of a communication response. We are also experts at staying on top of the world's news and popular culture and can help your brand anticipate and plan for possible communication issues before they happen. With Phase 3 on your side, you don't have to worry about navigating the choppy waters of stormy cancel culture seas. Contact us today to schedule a discovery call.