Corporate Social Responsibility, PR and the Rise of CEO Activism

150 CEOs of major companies demanded the Trump administration and Congress to take action on gun violence.

In a recent segment on Fox Business, branding strategist Kris Ruby, CEO of Ruby Media Group, discussed:

  • How CEOs and their companies can ‘do good’ in the court of public opinion
  • Is CEO political activism fair to shareholders?
  • Is corporate social responsibility a great PR strategy? Or will it lead to long-term economic failure?
  • If it does lead to loss of profit, is it worth it because CEO’s are giving back to society on a larger level?
CEO activism

CEO Activism: Brands and Political Activism

Is taking a political stand a mistake for brands?

Every brand is taking a political stand these days on social media. But is it a mistake? And can it cost you profitability in the long run?

Taking a political stand as a CEO used to be considered a public relations “no.”  Now, it appears almost every Corporate Executive is changing their tune on this old adage. When did things change and why? What can we attribute to the rise of CEO activism?

  1. Millennial consumers. Consumers under 30 demand corporate social responsibility from their leaders.
  2. Social media. Social media changed the playing field. Many CEO’s are now using social media as a portal to share political views. CEO’s believe, “If I can use my power and social media network to make change in this world, then I will.”

The social media microphone of corporate executives

A lot of CEOs today, particularly in big tech, have celebrity power – a sort of bully pulpit they can work from. As I stated above, anyone selling to people under 30 has to take this into account because younger consumers demand much more corporate social responsibility from the companies and brands they buy from.

Social media has changed the speed at which this information is transmitted and the transparency of politicians viewpoints.

Should CEOs get involved in politics and weigh in on controversial issues?

There are expectations on CEOs to speak up on issues anywhere from gun violence to ICE raids and immigration reform.

Consumers are now relying on big brands and corporate executives to impact legislation on topics that were traditionally siloed for the government to handle.

How has this impacted integrated marketing communication strategies?  I am not sure we have seen the full ramifications of how this will impact a brands marketing communications strategy.  We are in unprecedented times.

Yes, corporate political activism seems to have skyrocketed under this administration, but at what cost? All of these decisions can have real world economic impacts as well.  And at some point that is going to catch up.

While it is great to read the headlines of corporate social responsibility, you rarely read about the PR aftermath of partnership or vendor disputes regarding the fallout from some of these decisions.

CEO Activism: the pros and cons  

Even if the CEOs goal of political brand activism is good in nature, it can still have a ripple effect on every other part of their business.

For example, how does a CEOs political views impact their companies media relations efforts? Does it help or hurt them if the press has different political views than the CEO? Similarly, how does this help or hurt the CEO if their employees have different political views?

CEOs say, “Employees want us to speak on their behalf and we are using our power to be their voice.”

However, did anyone ever check what their voice was? That assumes that all employees have the same political views across the board. Employees can feel trapped working for companies who have taken a very public political stance that they don’t agree with. They are afraid to speak up because they don’t want to get fired.  They are working for someone in a political environment where if they express dissident they will be on the outskirts.

CEO Activism and workforce politics

Everyone has a right to free speech, even CEOs.

If a company takes a stand and it ends up driving away customers, the company makes less money and the company stock price goes down.  If shareholders don’t agree with a CEO, they can decide to sell the stock or hold onto it and collect their returns if the stock performs well.

Employees are in a similar situation — if they disagree strongly with a company’s opinion, they can leave. We have historically low levels of unemployment, so it’s easier for a worker to find a new job than ever before. However, just because it is easier, doesn’t mean that most employees will automatically jump ship. Instead, they can stay in the position and it can feel like a slow arduous death.

Taking a side, whether it’s principled or a gimmick, endears you to millions of people on that side.

But what happens to the other side?

For starters, companies with a strong opinion about social or political issues on the far right may not have as much access to talent.  For example, if your company publicly supports Trump, about half the country might not want to come work for you. Similarly, if your company publicly denounces Trump, what about the other half?

When speaking about CEO activism, Richard Edelman stated, “…But we’re also using the power of our employees, who are going to be our motive force.  Employees want us to speak on their behalf. And it’s an urgent time for CEOs to mobilize, in the sense, their entire supply chain of those who contribute to their businesses and get them to write letters as well.” 

“CEOs feel that they are empowered to step forward into the void left by government, that three-quarters of people, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, now want CEOs to stand up and speak up on behalf of issues of the day.  And that’s a new kind of moment in corporate world. So CEOs are doing so, with the backing of their employees and the backing of their customers.”- Richard Edelman

Let’s dissect this for a minute.

This statement is inherently flawed for a number of reasons.

  • It assumes that all customers have the same political view, and that all employees have the same political view.
  • This is a utopian view of society that does not take into consideration that there are two political parties in this country.
  • One cannot assume that all of their employees and customers agree with them unless they know without a doubt that 100 % of their base only has one political point of view.

Should brands take a political stand?

Business leaders are drawn into the political process at rapid speed. But does partisanship really have a role in Corporate America, and what impact can it have on the economy? Business leaders are already entrenched with daily corporate negotiations.  Do we really need to add a halo of polarized politics on top of all of it?

Some believe that if corporate executives do not take a political stand, it is a complete abdication of their responsibility as business leaders. Does Congress want to answer to business leaders? And do consumers really want to be entangled in their favorite brands political preferences? Will this help or hurt business?

It is also important to note that brand activism as a PR stunt is always pretty obvious, and consumers can tell when a brand is not coming from an authentic place.

Similarly, if your short term goals are financially motivated, consumers can sense that as well.

So, where does this leave CEOs and public relations managers who find themselves smack in the middle of this burgeoning era of corporate political activism?

Should consumers rely on brands and corporations for political activism?

Yes, but only if your target audience is partisan, and you have data to back that up. If your target audience includes consumers from BOTH parties, you should strongly consider if inserting your brand into controversial political policies makes sense. Just because it is the hot PR strategy of the moment doesn’t mean it is a profitable one for your business.

If you want to alienate half of your employees and consumers, go for it. But traditionally, companies prided themselves in caring about all of their customers.  That should include customers from all political backgrounds. As a brand, you cannot preach inclusivity, when in reality, you are actually executing corporate exclusivity, while ignoring any differing opinions.

Brand Activism Resources

Most consumers want CEOs to take a political stance

What CEOs Should Know About Speaking Up on Political Issues

The right and wrong way to do CEO activism

Should CEOs be activists?

When should CEOs take a political stand?

The cost of CEO activism

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Buying and Selling Instagram Accounts

Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby was recently interviewed by MarketWatch in the article titled, “This 23-year-old has made $120,000 buying and selling Instagram accounts.”

Flipping Instagram Accounts

 

 

Here are just some Google search results you will see when searching “How to buy Instagram accounts.”

“How to flip and sell Instagram accounts”

“Sell your Instagram account with real followers”

“Instagram accounts for sale with high engagement”

“Marketplace for Instagram account trading”

But is buying or selling an Instagram account a good business decision? And what are the risks if you get caught?

 

Flipping Instagram Accounts & Buying Verified Instagram Accounts: Don’t do it 

People are flipping Instagram accounts. Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby suggests steering clear of this trend and explains why it is bad for your business. 

What are the main ways people buy and sell Instagram accounts? Can you buy verified Instagram accounts?

People are buying and selling Instagram accounts through sites like Swapd, TooFame, Social Tradia and Insta Sale, to name just a few.  Instagram accounts that are for sale are advertised through Reddit threads, Facebook groups, such as Buy, Sell, Exchange, Instagram DM’s and Facebook DM’s.

What does it mean to flip Instagram accounts?

Instagram accounts are flipped the same way real estate properties are flipped. Buy low and sell high seems to be the motto. The practice of buying and selling Instagram accounts appears to be most prevalent with niche accounts.  Niche accounts are created around a specific vertical of content, which typically attracts a target audience that is primarily interested in that specific subject.

Instagram Like Neon Sign

Why are people buying and selling accounts on Instagram? Is it because they don’t want to run the Instagram accounts anymore?

Instagram accounts are bought and sold for a few reasons. Any time something is perceived to have value in the marketing world, it will be exploited. However,  the notion of “value” in the Instagram ecosystem is currently one that is up for grabs and is being redefined as we speak. Instagram is currently testing out a feature which would essentially hide ‘like’ counts. This will be a game-changer for the influencer community and will essentially force everyone to start from a more even playing field. While follower counts will still be critical, engagement will be the most important metric to benchmark against.

There is currently an entire underground market that exists within this influencer community for buying and selling Instagram accounts.  This is not something that a reputable social media agency would endorse or support.  People are buying and selling verified Instagram accounts to make money, not because it has any real intrinsic value for the business who is buying the account.

Why the Instagram influencer bubble was bound to burst

If Instagram hides ‘like’ counts, it will have a massive impact on the entire Instagram ecosystem beyond influencers.   If someone wants to become an influencer, they will have to work much harder to gain the same traction they were previously getting. Influencers will have to focus on creating quality content if they want to increase engagement.

I was never a fan of relying on like counts as a metric anyway. When people want to work with Ruby Media Group for social media management services, I always ask what success would look like. If someone says, “An increase in X number of followers,” I know they aren’t a good fit as a new client for the agency. Why? Because follower count is not a true measure of success. Three hundred followers that are actually in your target audience mean way more than 10,000 followers from all over the world who will never be your customers. Vanity metrics are garbage and have always been pretty much worthless. I have been saying this for years. Likes do not equal new customers and profitability!

So, why does this matter for buying and selling Instagram accounts? If you redefine value in a marketplace, you also redefine what people are willing to pay for that perceived value.  As the metrics of measurement and value change in the Instagram ecosystem, everything will be impacted, including how people flip Instagram accounts. The main metric they were using to measure these accounts may disappear entirely in a few years.

Click and Collect Instagram likesWhat makes an Instagram account valuable?

Followers used to be the supreme way that people measured how valuable an account was. Like count was viewed as equally important. But with Instagram testing a feature that would hide like counts, the notion of value will be redefined. Engagement is the most important metric of what makes an Instagram account valuable.

However, an Instagram account in a silo is not a true measure of value. People make the mistake of thinking one Instagram account can make or break their marketing. It can’t. An Instagram account is one tactic within a larger social media marketing strategy that must exist under the umbrella of a strategic marketing communications plan.

Instagram is not a quick fix to raking in new sales overnight. You have to evaluate the platform in correlation with your target audience/ demographic and where they spend their time online. Whether you are B2B vs. B2C also factors into what makes the most sense for your business. I can unequivocally say that the #1 thing that makes an Instagram account not valuable is a fake account purchased through a third party swapping platform.  Username and third-party verification is also important, but there is an underground market for getting those blue checkmarks too.

Let’s say someone sells an active account with 100,000 followers with decent engagement.  How much would that Instagram account be worth?  How much would a sponsored post on that Instagram account be worth?

Instagram accounts sell on the underground market anywhere between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. It is difficult to say how much a sponsored post would be worth as it would depend on how many followers the account has, how much engagement the account has, and the activity level on the account.

Do companies ever buy Instagram accounts so that they can have the username?

Brands buy Instagram accounts predominantly for the follower count and prepackaged audience. Username is a factor as well but not the driving force.   I always encourage people to secure their username on every social media platform.  Even if you don’t plan on using the account, no one can take the social media handle from you if you have secured it first.  In an age where personal branding reigns supreme, owning the social media handles for your name is invaluable.

Is it legal to sell Instagram accounts?  Buying and selling Instagram accounts violates the company’s terms and conditions. Do people actually get in trouble for buying and selling accounts? 

The people who get in trouble are the ones who have bought the Instagram accounts. They may think they got a great deal, but in reality, it is a terrible deal. Why would you want to build something on top of a pre-purchased Instagram account? The Instagram account can essentially be kicked off at any time for violating Instagram’s TOS. That seems like a terrible investment and a big gamble and makes no logical business sense.

Additionally, you have no idea what you are really getting by buying a prepackaged audience that has been built for someone else and not for your business. Furthermore, all it can do is hurt you from a digital marketing perspective. Your ad targeting will be thrown off if it is not custom-tailored to the target audience of customers and prospects you have built for your business. No one else knows your business as well as you do, so why try to purchase it from someone else? Stop looking for shortcuts and do the hard work yourself to build an organic following.

Have you ever heard of circumstances in which an Instagram account has gotten shut down or if someone has gotten banned for buying/selling Instagram accounts?

I haven’t heard of a circumstance in which an account has gotten shut down for buying and selling Instagram accounts because I do everything by the book and don’t fundamentally agree with this practice. I believe in building your own following from scratch — not buying someone else’s and hoping it works out. It is also worth noting that Instagram appears to be kicking people off their platform for any reason they deem fit these days, including what they recently did with the meme purge.

Ruby’s Final Thoughts on Buying and Selling Instagram accounts: 

  • Instagram very clearly states this is against their TOS to buy and sell accounts.
  • Do not buy Instagram accounts through these services. It will hurt any targeting digital advertising you are doing, and Instagram can remove the account at any time if it violates their TOS.
  • The old metric of likes and followers will increasingly matter less in the future of Instagram marketing as Instagram experiments with hiding like counts.
  • Focus on quality engagement and content and stop looking for a shortcut to doing the hard work of building the audience yourself and creating great content.

 

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Is the Curated Instagram Aesthetic Dead?

Ruby Media Group CEO Kris Ruby was quoted in a feature story in The Atlantic called “Influencers are abandoning the Instagram look.”

The Instagram Aesthetic Is over

 

Is the curated Instagram aesthetic dead?

Some say Instagram killed our museum culture while others say it reinvented it.

Instagram museums and pop-ups were never truly meant as a replacement for museums. They are a way to experience a new type of art— social media art.

Instagram museums are not dead- rather, the target audience for them shifted substantially. For example, look on the  Instagram feed of family with young children and you will see loads of photos of them at an Instagram museum. Look on the feed of a millennial, however, and you won’t see as many photos of them at an Instagram museum. Why is this?

Because millennials and influencers are all looking to rack up likes and traffic- something a regular Instagram user isn’t as focused on. If a millennial can post a photo that virtually anyone else can post— it takes away from their Instagram and personal brand aesthetic.

There is only one exception to the rule- when media invites the influencers to experience these pop-ups or museums ahead of time, and the influencer has an adequate amount of time to take pictures that do not look as highly curated.

For example, at a recent Candytopia Instagram pop up in NYC, users only had a set amount of time to take photos in the fake marshmallow pit. These photos are fine for someone who is just posting regular family photos. However, if you are looking for a high quality photo to match your Instagram feed aesthetic, you may end up with the same photo hundreds of other Instagram users have already posted.

Additionally, there are people in the background of the photo, which is also something influencers don’t want if they are trying to get a unique photo.

When you actually try to take photos at these pop-ups, you see that it’s not as easy to get a great photo as you thought it would be.

How to create a curated Instagram feed aesthetic

The challenge is trying to keep up a color-coordinated theme with all of these backgrounds. To properly create a curated Instagram feed, everything needs to be planned weeks in advance, especially with things like colored wall photos and pop-up photos.

There is a certain amount of burn-out you see with Instagram users, which is why Instagram Stories have taken off in popularity.

You can throw anything up on a story. The content begins to feel more native and easier to capture. You don’t have to think about colored walls, the filter, or the people in the background in the way of your perfect photo.

Is creating a curated Instagram feed aesthetic really worth it?

Users are now asking themselves, “What length am I willing to go to get that photo? Is it worth the $30 cost of admission?”

Is it really worth driving to the city and the cost of a parking garage all for an Instagram photo that thousands of other people have when you look at the same hashtag?

Is it worth waiting in line once I get there for an hour?

Is it worth jumping into a fake marshmallow pit as a grown adult with other kids where I could potentially get sick and then have to miss work?

And for many users, it’s just not worth it anymore. They can just as easily take a great photo in their neighborhood without having to spend money to get a highly curated photo that 10,000 people already have.

If content is king, unique content reigns supreme, and you can’t get that if you have a photo that isn’t unique.

Ask yourself, is it worth it?

Turning a beautiful Saturday into yet another photo op. Asking the person you are with to be a photographer and take curated photos when all they want to do is sit outside in the sun instead of sitting in a fake marshmallow pit with children as a grown adult trying to get likes from Internet strangers.

Are we willing to lose the people we like in real life to get the attention of people on social media who don’t even know us to “like” our images and digital persona?

More people are waking up to the inherent disparity in this and are finally saying no.

I’m no longer willing to give up real love and likes to get attention from digital strangers.

What about you?

What is your social media line in the sand?

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Kris Ruby in NY Post Discussing Instagram Meme Purge

NYC Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby, President of Ruby Media Group, was recently quoted in a NY Post article on the Instagram meme purge. Click here to read the full article “Instagram’s purge of accounts cost this teen $4,000 per month.”

Instagram Meme Purge

During the recent meme purge, many any of the Instagram meme accounts were suspended without warning. This move left many Instagrammers wondering what policy they violated. Users had no idea why they were suspended. Why does this matter? For two reasons:

1) Vague content policies leave users wondering where they went wrong and what TOS they violated.

2) It is becoming increasingly challenging for content creators to build a business where their sole revenue comes in from third-party social media platforms.

The recent Instagram meme purge is a great example of why. You are essentially dependent on a third-party platform to host all of your business content. If that third-party decides to remove you from the platform (for whatever reason they deem fit) your business is essentially demolished overnight and you lose that income stream.

Social media platforms are rented virtual property. You must diversify your assets – just as you would in real estate. The same applies for social media.

Do not put all of your social media marketing eggs in one basket. You can not trust that these platforms have your best interest in mind.

Focus on creating owned media and always back up your content.

This article originally appeared in MarketWatch.

 

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NYC Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby on Fox News Discussing New Inclusive Language Guide

Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby of Ruby Media Group was recently on Fox News “Fox & Friends” Discussing Colorado State University’s new all inclusive language guide. To watch the full segment, click here. 

 

Should Marketers Adopt Gender-Neutral pronouns?

The Rise of Gender-Neutral Marketing Pronouns 

As marketers and copywriters, we take for granted using basic pronouns.

Of all of the copy changes we make on any given social media post, blog or ad, pronouns are typically not the first thing we think of.

All of that will soon change.

Think about every famous ad that includes pronouns that are now considered offensive. Take Maybelline for example. “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.”

In today’s political climate where PC language reigns supreme for brands, this ad would be considered offensive.

How would you rewrite that ad in a way that is no longer offensive?

And if you do rewrite it, does it still carry the same appeal?

The war on language will be the biggest thing to disrupt marketing.

The pronouns we take for granted will soon become obsolete in a world that is banning words and rewriting the language.

What do you think, marketers? Is this something you have been thinking proactively about with new ad copy?

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for marketing?

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NY Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby Discusses FaceApp Privacy Concerns

Ruby Media Group CEO Kris Ruby was recently on i24News discussing the privacy concerns surrounding FaceApp. Click here to watch the full segment. Should you be concerned about FaceApp? Will your data be compromised?

If you are so worried about the Russians access to your data, why are you not worried about access to your data that big tech companies hold here in the US? The hypocrisy in all of this is the real issue.

Everyone is so focused on this “FaceApp” they forget that the big tech companies here have massive access to your data.. and who really knows what they do with it.. Kris Ruby’s take on FaceApp below and why this is only the tip of the iceberg in the larger privacy debate with big tech.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sucyDt5Zkm0
FaceApp Privacy Concerns

 

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NY Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby on Fox News Discussing Nike Kaepernick Controversy

NYC Social Media Strategist Kris Ruby of Ruby Media Group was on Fox News discussing the latest Nike controversy with Colin Kaepernick and the Betsy Ross Flag. Click here to watch the full segment.

Nike Should Brands Get Political

 

Should brands get political? 

The Arizona Governor pulled Nike Tax break incentives after Colin Kaepernick blocked the release of the new Nike betsy Ross-themed 4th of July sneakers.

The Governor was willing to sacrifice economic activity for his state to not allow a company that he perceived to be Anti-American.

Nike crossed such an extreme line with the decision to pull the Betsy Ross themed Fourth of July sneakers that the Governor was willing to lose their business and not do the deal.

Political correctness can only go so far before it has the opposite effect.

If you start losing tax breaks because of PR/ Marketing stunts, there is now a direct cost.

How many states will follow suit in terms of the precedent this sets and do the same to other brands who want to insert themselves into politics?

Yes, there is a direct cost of being too political as a brand.

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Branding Expert Kris Ruby on Fox News Discussing Nike Betsy Ross Flag Controversy

NY Branding Expert Kris Ruby of Ruby Media Group was recently on Fox Business discussing the Nike Betsy Ross Flag Controversy. Click here to watch the full segment.

Nike Betsy Ross Branding

 

In a hyper-politicized environment, should brands take a stance? 

How is it that these sneakers could have gotten shipped to retailers without anyone internally from Nikes marketing and communication team seeing an issue with this?

If using this flag was as insensitive as Colin Kaepernick states that it is, what does it say about Nike’s C Level leadership team (and CMO!) that not a single person there noticed anything wrong with it?

Is Nike’s branding team that out of touch with their audience?

Did Nike fail to do any market research?

Did Nike’s marketing or internal com team raise any red flags?

Or are they solely relying on an outside brand ambassador to run marketing for a global brand.

Why Nike’s Marketing Strategy is not brilliant

Brands take calculated risks when it comes to politics.

Yet, in a hyper-political world, brands such as Nike seem to be doing the opposite, even if it means potentially offending half of your potential consumer base.

Nike has chosen to align with identity-driven causes that are controversial.

While this is in unity with what their target audience is looking for, what about other possible growth sectors?

Nike is legally responsible to shareholders to make profitable decisions.

So where does taking a stance on cause-marketing come into play, and what if these decisions hurt profits?

Should Nike put culture politics above market wisdom of a billion dollar corporation?

What brands can learn from Nike 

If you want to align your brand with America’s Culture War and political correctness, expect backlash on social media (and beyond!).

Understand that Political Correctness can cost your corporation.

Short-term profitability or spikes in the market do not necessarily show long-term damage from brand equity or how the brand is perceived. A great example of this is when the Arizona Governor nixed tax incentives for Nike as a result of this recent marketing stunt for political correctness.

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