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Activism on social media: bringing down the curtain on performative allyship

The Drum Social is a weekly column from The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston covering the latest social media trends, strategies and insights. Follow Amy @AmyCLHouston and join in the conversation #TheDrumSocial

How can brands attach themselves to issue-led days on social without it being performative?

Last year life as we knew it was suddenly paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic, yet as a result, we were all catapulted into this new, hyper-digital world.

The pandemic has caused a huge shift in how we interact with one another online, and with global movements calling for societal change all the more heightened by these changes, we are seeing the dawning of a new age of online activism.

International Women’s Day is fast approaching, and with its ‘Choose to Challenge’ theme, now feels like as good a time as any to reflect on how brands can participate in issue-led days on social media – without being purely performative.

Online allyship can be a double-edged sword. On the one side, you have people who inherently want to spread awareness and educate themselves, and on the other, there are those who use it to re-calibrate their own moral compass.

Social media can be a brilliant tool for activists when used as a starting point and not the destination. It’s worth bearing in mind that people have been raising awareness about social injustices since long before there was a hashtag for it on Twitter.

Turning activism into a trend can ultimately be genuinely harmful to causes in the long run because, as we have witnessed countless times, social media moves onto the next hot topic in the blink of an eye.

Furthermore, there are certain values that individuals can center when striving to become a better ally, such as amplifying oppressed voices over their own; understanding that the onus for education falls to them, and standing up even when it might be difficult. But how can brands embody these values to become more thoughtful and effective in their approach?

As a social media manager, I’m all too aware of the resources that go into curating posts, so my first piece of advice would be to take some of that time back and use it in the real world. Are there opportunities within your organization to take a couple of days to volunteer and share your skill set with others? Utilizing your unique knowledge in a tangible way through mentoring or workshops will always be hugely beneficial.

Issue-led days give us a moment to reflect on the progress that has been made, take stock of the growth that still needs to happen, and assess how to make that possible. Identify your goals as an organization and have open company-wide conversations about them. When brands are diverse and inclusive internally, it shows externally.

When it comes to any type of advocacy work it’s important to de-center yourself and not take the position of the ‘hero’ – this holds especially true for brands. A more meaningful approach would be to create safe spaces for discussions on your social channels, share helpful resources such as charity pages and petitions, or turn your platform over to voices within marginalized communities. Brands have the capability to reach large groups of people through their channels and therefore have a responsibility to seek out and amplify voices all year round.

Looking ahead to International Women’s Day on Monday (8 March) it’s my hope that brands will take a purposeful approach to their social activity, while carrying on the important education on and offline for the other 364 days of the year. Below is a list of events and resources you can share with your followers and within your organization: - Full list of global events - Connect and support women through Lean In Circles - Fundraise for female-focused charities

We asked The Drum’s social media communities their thoughts on this topic, here’s what they had to say:

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