Class Consciousness Is On The Rise In The US, And It's Destroying Corporate Social Media Accounts
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Americans are, slowly but surely, becoming more class conscious.
That's not something die-hard capitalists or business leaders may want to hear, but it's true. Ironically, it's their fault.
For decades, corporations and politicians in the US have been waging scare campaigns against communism and socialism. Many Americans don't even differentiate between the two, and misinformation concerning socialist policies abounds.
I know, at this point, you're probably wondering, "what does this have to do with my company's Twitter account." We'll get there. But to understand where companies are going wrong with social media, you have to know the values of the average millennial worker.
Millennials now hold more purchasing power than any other generation, so capturing the millennial market is key for businesses that want to thrive in 2020 and beyond.
One defining characteristic of millennials (I know, generalizing a generation is messy, but bear with me) is their tendency to lean further left than previous generations - embracing agendas like socialism. Understanding why - and how - socialism and class consciousness are on the rise among millennials is crucial.
To put it bluntly, US workers have been shafted by the disinformation campaigns waged against socialist policies designed to protect workers. As a result, US workers are currently some of the least empowered, most overworked employees in the developed world.
This isn't a question about politics or "left versus right." This is a question of factual information. So, let's look at some facts (as per usual, all sources are hyperlinked for your convenience):
One-hundred-thirty-four countries have laws regulating maximum work-hours per week; the US does not.
US employees work around 137 hours more per year than Japanese workers, another nation considered to be 'overworked.' US workers also put in 260 hours more per year compared to British workers.
Government benefits for workers in the US lag far behind most European countries.
US income inequality is at an all-time high, and the gap is only growing, with the top 1% of earners in the US holding 40% of the country's wealth.
A whopping 78% of workers in the US live paycheck-to-paycheck.
Despite spending more on its healthcare system than any other developed nation, the US has worse population health outcomes and worse access to care than other countries. As a side-note, conservative estimates predict that the US would save trillions by switching to a universal healthcare system.
Wealth inequality in the US is at its highest point in over 50 years.
If US workers were kept in the dark about their relatively poor treatment, perhaps they wouldn't question the status quo. But the democratization of information a la the internet has resulted in a massive boost in class consciousness among American workers in recent years - particularly younger generations that never experienced the Red Scare of McCarthyism. Let's look at some more stats:
Sixty-two percent of Americans distrust Fortune 500 corporations.
More workers went on strike in 2018 and 2019 than any time in US history since the 1980s.
Sixty-four percent of Americans currently support labor unions.
Only 45% of young Americans have a favorable view of capitalism. Conversely, 51% of young Americans have a favorable view of socialism. As a caveat, I think it's important to note my belief that most young Americans find social-democratic systems such as those employed in Scandinavia attractive, not purely socialist policies. For example, while Bernie Sanders models himself as a 'democratic socialist,' his policies are much more in-line with Scandinavian social democracies than they are socialist states.
Seventy percent of millennials would vote for a socialist.
If US employee wages escalated to account for increases in employee productivity and living expenses, the US minimum wage today would be $22 an hour. Of course, the federal minimum wage is still only $7.25, and even 'high minimum wage' areas such as Los Angeles only feature a minimum wage of $15.00 per hour.
Business leaders, such as Barstool Sports co-founder Dave Portnoy, have received increased scrutiny over anti-union sentiments in recent years. Portnoy recently had to settle with the National Labor Relations Board over anti-union tweets he made. Other large enterprises, such as Amazon, have fallen under rapidly-increasing scrutiny for poor treatment of workers.
"No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By 'business' I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers, I mean all workers, the white-collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of decent living."
If your first thought was, "Bernie Sanders?," Nope. That's a quote from US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, made almost a century ago when minimum wage was established as a concept. More and more US workers are mirroring that line of thought, and are demanding higher wages and better benefits from employers.
Before we continue, I'd like to note that - contrary to the assumptions of many business leaders - businesses that pay living wages and provide for employees well often increase productivity and profitability, offsetting higher employee wage and care costs. Here's a great article from the Harvard Business Review on just that topic if you're interested.
Let's talk about corporate social media profiles.
The social media accounts of companies are driven by a perception of what the bulk of social-media users - Millennials and Gen Zs - value. Since Millennials are in their prime spending years, appealing to them successfully is more important than ever.
So, what do we know about Millennial values?
Millennials in the US lean more left than previous generations, as indicated by previous statistics, such as how 70% would vote for a socialist.
Seventy-three percent of millennials are willing to spend more money on sustainable products.
An incredible 91% of US millennials are willing to switch brands for a brand they feel represents their personal values.
Millennials (and Gen Zs) are commonly perceived as having a 'surrealist, dark' sense of humor.
Corporations try to combine these attributes when creating 'marketable' social media profiles. It's a tall order that results in a hilarious number of social media fumbles from big brands. Take this tweet and subsequent consumer response from Burger King, for example:
Similar snafus are a dime a dozen in the world of corporate social media.
The Burger King social media marketing team takes the information 'millennials like brands with social values' and uses it to make the statement, "you're beautiful, you're loved, you matter. don't forget it." All credit to the team writing the tweet, it's a nice sentiment.
It also falls apart when Jordan replies, "you pay people $8 an hour."
You've got to admit, Jordan has a point.
Appeals of 'corporate personhood' in which brands pretend to care about the emotional well-being of individuals, will always fall flat unless those brands put their money where their mouth is and care for their employees as much as they care about their Twitter followers. Corporations paying people minimum wage firing off tweets about emotional self-care when 64% of Americans feel stressed at work shouldn't expect their efforts to come across as authentic or meaningful. Tweets like this gem from Chase Bank are a great example of just how wrong things can go when corporate social media profiles try to get preachy with their followers:
Does that mean companies relying on minimum-wage workers to survive should abandon social media? No. Brands that don't pay their employee's living wages or give great benefits can still be successful on social platforms. For example, Pop-Tarts runs a ridiculously successful Twitter account. Tweets like this:
Are an everyday occurrence.
But you can bet that if Pop-Tarts tweeted the same type of socially conscious message Burger King tried to put out, another Jordan would be in the replies calling them out. Pop-Tarts is successful on social media because the brand isolates itself to a purely humorous profile that, while still having a unique 'personality,' does not attempt to display social values not reflected by its corporate practices.
So, how can brands run successful social media accounts? Here's a handy-dandy list:
If you're going to make social media posts about social issues, make sure your corporation is socially responsible. Don't post about self-care if you barely pay employees enough to make rent. Don't post about mental-health if your employees work exhausting 60-hour weeks.
Businesses that depend on paying worker minimum-wage can still have successful social media profiles as long as they avoid corporate personhood or socially conscious messaging (see my above example of Pop-Tarts).
Know what trends to capitalize on. For example, take this ill-thought-out tweet Cinnabon made after Carrie Fisher's death:
It's obvious what happened. Some social media marketers saw #CarrieFisher trending and decided to combine the trend with the 'surrealist, dark' humor millennials apparently love so much. Of course, it just comes off as disrespectful and grotesque. This could have been avoided if the marketing team took a second to ponder, "does Cinnabon really have anything meaningful to say about the death of this beloved celebrity?" and reached the obvious conclusion of "no" before making the tweet. Just because something is trending doesn't mean it deserves a tweet from your brand.
Consider quality over quantity. One brand that I think runs excellent social media (and billboard) marketing campaigns is Spotify. Spotify's campaigns mostly consist of analytics-driven marketing designed around platform-specific metrics and an eye-catching aesthetic. Here are some examples:
The high-quality of Spotify's content overrides any absence of snarky tweets or one-off jokes. Spotify also makes an effort of regularly shouting-out artists who use the platform, which helps their social media profiles feel directed at their userbase.
Use your social media as an amplifier for your fans and/or users. Far too few corporate social media accounts take advantage of how social media can allow a brand to represent itself through amplifying the messaging of its userbase or fans. Post-fan-made content. Retweet reviews. Make your consumers part of your brand. Before WeWork went up in flames, for example, the brand ran an incredibly successful account that consisted primarily of user-created content.
Don't fall prey to the idea your social media "has to be snarky/quirky/etc." Too many brands (like Burger King) try to run snarky or socially conscious accounts when they could be focusing on the products and services that make their brands unique and successful. All you need to run a 'snarky' twitter account is a 20-something social media marketer with a sense of humor. As a 23-year-old content writer, trust me, we're a dime-a-dozen. Your business - the products and services that made your brand stand above the rest - needs to be front and center. Any social media messaging should take a back-seat and should accentuate your business offerings, not act as the main attraction. Getting 2,000 retweets because "you're the brand with great products that just so happens to be funny" generates a lot more sales than getting 2,000 retweets because "you're the funny brand with mediocre products." I chuckled at plenty of Pop-Tarts' tweets during 2019, but the last time I had a Pop-Tart was at least seven years ago.
Social media and content marketing are not 'one-size-fits-all' endeavors. You'll only be successful if you consider how your business and its offerings uniquely fit into the current socio-political, cultural, and economic climates your target demographic(s) inhabit. Tailor your social media presence to accentuate your strengths and downplay or avoid weaknesses in these areas. With a little finesse, you can prevent missteps like Burger King while building your social media profile consistently and efficiently.
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