Cancel Culture, Crisis Communications

Corporate Cancel Culture in 2022 – What Do Companies Have to Fear?

Allison Westhoven, Corporate Communications Manager

Back in late 2019, just months before the pandemic, Hart wrote a piece detailing #CancelCulture and what it meant for businesses. In that article, we outlined how to understand your company’s risks and ways to mitigate the effects on your reputation. Two years later, although we are in a much different world, #CancelCulture is as active as ever. We’re continuing to see cancellation crises due to everything from updating logos and mascot redesigns to name changes. However, now we’re increasingly seeing how the actions of individuals, such as the company’s CEO, an employee or even a board member, can result in negative implications for a brand just as much as a decision made by the brand itself.

When we think of cancel culture, many of us tend to assume it only happens to large, consumer-facing brands. So is it really something all companies need to worry about? While it’s unlikely being “cancelled” could totally end a business, a crisis can be a catalyst, leading to negative public sentiment, customers rethinking their brand loyalty and seeking out competitive brands that better align with their values, and ultimately even losses in revenue.

Key takeaway: You need to be prepared.


Here are a few important factors to consider before, during and after a crisis.

1. Understanding the Risk and Preparing Your Staff

Many brands assume they’re not well enough known to be singled out by cancel culture. While most cancellations have affected well-known B2C companies, they can also happen to – and greatly impact – B2B businesses.

No brand is immune from corporate cancel culture. All it takes is one tweet from the CEO, a disgruntled former employee with a Facebook account or a poorly executed commercial for a company to see its reputation negatively impacted. This is especially true for the company’s leadership. According to the Harvard Business Review, nearly one half of a company’s corporate reputation (45%) and 44% of its market value is attributable to its CEO’s reputation.

CEOs are the “the face” of the company, and their beliefs and thoughts are tied intrinsically to those of the business, now more than ever. Consider what happened when Elon Musk, CEO for Tesla, tweeted out that the company’s stock price was “too high.” By that afternoon, Tesla stock had dropped by as much as 12% and lost billions.

This is why it’s important to train your employees, especially leadership, in social media best practices. Companies should have a social media policy in place that provides guidelines on what can and cannot be posted to company pages and explains how even what they share on their own social media platforms can impact the brand.

Implementing a social listening program is another way to get ahead of a cancellation. Through social listening (our favorite tool is Digimind), you can monitor the sentiment and mentions around your brand coming from outside your owned channels to see a potential crisis coming, and get a full picture of how your brand is being discussed in the digital landscape.

2. Take a Stand and Implement Real Change

In the years since the start of the pandemic, more consumers now expect brands to take a stance on social issues. Businesses can no longer try to appease both sides of an issue; customers want to spend their money with brands that share their beliefs. According to research from SurveyMonkey, 78% of consumers said they made a purchase decision based on values in the past year. In addition, 55% polled said they are much more likely to purchase from a company that shares their values.

We saw this play out in the summer of 2020 with the Black Lives Matter movement and companies choosing to make statements of support. While these efforts were met with praise by some, others were quick to recognize and publicly call out those that provided no plan of action to help address racial injustice. Companies that are seen as purpose driven tend to fare better than those that are not, with 73% of U.S. consumers saying they are less likely to cancel a company if it is purpose driven. (Porter Novelli study)

If your company hasn’t decided how to position itself on certain issues and prepared messaging, both external and internal, now is the time. This includes developing an actionable plan to demonstrate how your company will bring about positive change. By taking a position, your company can avoid many of the pitfalls that cause cancellations while getting a huge boost in publicity and interest from current and potential customers, clients and employees. However, be prepared to hear from those who don’t agree and will not follow you on this new path. And know that those who choose to stand with you will become your brand’s most vocal and loyal ambassadors.

3. Surviving the Social Media Mob

As mentioned earlier, so much of what is perceived as cancel culture comes from social media. Following a misstep, a company’s social media pages and website could see hundreds of negative comments, and if the crowd is loud enough, this can cross over into negative media coverage. Many companies choose not to engage, thinking that a crisis, especially one on social media, will go away. According to Chief Executive magazine, only 32% of companies engage in crisis training and simulation. This is a recipe for disaster and will only lead to much bigger problems when a crisis does occur.

When a crisis is happening in real time, it’s important for a company to speak about it as soon as possible, because the longer you wait to address an issue, the less likely you are to control the narrative.

To do this:

1. Acknowledge the crisis internally.

2. Decide what the response will be.

3. Issue a public statement explaining the company’s position, including admitting errors and mistakes made.

4. Wait out the mob.

Those last two are key in cancel culture-type situations. Consumers will be more willing to listen if a company owns up to its mistakes instead of trying to act like nothing happened. In fact, 88% of consumers said they are more willing to forgive a company for making a mistake if it shows a genuine attempt to change.

Once a statement is live, you will likely see additional pushback and engagement, especially on social media. It’s important to remember that you cannot bring everyone over to your side, and over time, the negative voices will eventually die out.

Hart Can Help Evaluate Your Risk

If you’re interested in learning more about how to protect your company from cancel culture, let’s talk! From crisis communications to media training to social strategy, Hart is ready to help.