This article is not about George Floyd, but I cannot begin the article without discussing him.
On May 25th George Floyd – a black man – was killed by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin – a white man – who kept his knee pressed down on the right side of Floyd’s neck for nine minutes despite Floyd repeatedly saying that he could not breathe. The horrifying ordeal was recorded by bystanders and promptly exploded on social media. The police officer has since been arrested and charged with third degree murder.
The day after Floyd died, protests and demonstrations exploded throughout the United States and even internationally. These protests are ongoing and while largely peaceful they have been met with a violent response by police that in turn has been complicated by destruction and looting. The news headlines, and by extension social media networks themselves, have been completely dominated by the George Floyd protests. If you’re reading this in the immediate aftermath of me publishing it you can go to any social network and see the trends.
Social networks are predominantly people bearing witness to searing racial wounds in the United States, watching in horror at the riots and subsequent violent police responses and debating the latest incident in police behavior that has resulted in the death of someone who is a black.
Which is why, if you’re a small business, you need to cancel your social media posts for the rest of this week. Especially your paid promotions on major promotions on Facebook and Instagram.
Look – I get it. COVID-19 hit the small business community like an implosion that has ground the entire economy in the United States – let alone the world – to a screeching halt. Even as the United States partially reopens with restricts that will likely last a long time many people are sheltering in place or have shifted largely to work-from-home. It’s been the attitude of some that we can reopen the economy and get back to normal, but for many small businesses lost revenue and lost jobs aren’t going to rematerialize as if by a finger snap by Thanos (or the Hulk, if you prefer).
This is further complicated by the federal government’s embarrassing handling of the Paycheck Protection Program, which has seen publicly-traded companies receive $365 million in small business loans. Many who tried to apply couldn’t even process their applications. It was basically playing the lottery for keeps.
In short, if you’re a small business you’ve likely been left out in the cold by the shutdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 with little in terms of institutional relief. Many have turned to GoFundMe – forcing struggling small business owners to essentially act as marketers, promoters and organizers – even as many campaigns have failed their goals. In short, reaching people online through direct advertising has become a crucial tool in the struggle to stay above water that many small businesses of all stripes face.
Even so: It’s just not the time right now.
Amid the sadness, terror and tragedy this is one of the worst possible weeks to push a 20% off sale. It’s hard for many people right now to read about your latest SEO book. This isn’t some isolated incident; it’s a nationwide series of protests that are taking place amid a worldwide pandemic.
For what it’s worth, you’re joined by other companies who are going even further. Activision and Infinity Ward have delayed the release of the new season of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Warzone from its original release of June 3rd. The company wrote on Twitter that now is not the time. Music labels are suspending work on “Blackout Tuesday” in support of the demonstrations. Most tellingly, Sony has postponed a major PlayStation 5 event to “allow more important voices to be heard.”
There’s precedent for this, and it’s always important to read the room when it comes to gauging how responsive any given social network will be to your business-oriented content. It’s always better to ere on the side of sensitivity and respect for what’s going on.
Social media is (on paper, anyway) supposed to be about accessibility and authenticity. It’s why so many brands online and especially Twitter behave like individual people. That means reacting to what’s going on in the world and adjusting accordingly. The social media work you do – even as a small brand – does not occur in a bubble and it happens with context. Tweeting blithely about your latest sale while the social media discourse is wrapped up in the George Floyd protests doesn’t just like odd – it can be alienating.
This has been a rough couple of months for the business community. Hopefully as things reopen small businesses can find their footing, retool, and adapt to this new normal we’re living in. For now, hit the pause button on the social queues and, as Sony said, let the voices that really matter right now be heard. Your customers will still be here when you get back.