Businesses weigh in on DC riot, learn lessons about social media

While the nation is still reeling from last week’s deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump supporters, major companies and trade groups across the nation are showing their uneasiness with the violent attacks inspired by President Trump’s words.

Several companies announced over the weekend their PACs will halt campaign donations to lawmakers who voted against certifying the Electoral College results of President-elect Joe Biden’s win, which includes all five of Louisiana’s Republican members of the House and one of its two U.S. senators.

Meanwhile, a handful of Louisiana businesses, including Rouses supermarket and Red Zeppelin Pizza, are under fire on social media because their owners attended the rally in D.C. that preceded the attack on the Capitol, though they were not involved in the violence and later condemned it.

The co-owner of another New Orleans supermarket, Breaux Mart, also drew unwanted attention to his company for reportedly posting on social media that he prayed for Trump’s “enemies to stumble & fall into confusion & panic.”

The tragic events illustrate a whole new minefield that businesses need to navigate in a world of toxic social media and extreme political polarization, local crisis communications experts say.

“Businesses really need to think about who their people are, who their customers are and what their values are,” says Christel Slaughter of SSA Consultants. “With social media, everything is so polarized and so many people live in a bubble and make assumptions about their customer base that may or may not be true.”

Businesses also need to really think about these kinds of issues in advance and have a policy in place before a crisis erupts, like that which has engulfed Rouses, not after.

“The best thing we tell clients and companies is you have to be prepared,” says Ann Edelman with Zehnder Communications. “You cannot enact social media policies when the crisis is going on. It’s an HR nightmare.”

The events last week and the way companies locally and nationally have responded is as much an HR issue as a communications one, with implications for a company’s identity and values, Edelman says.

“Your HR people are the ones who really need to stay within the law, think about corporate culture and your company’s values,” she says.

A company also needs to think about what kind of role it wants to play in the community, what causes and issues it wants to be associated with and how its employees and, even top brass, reflect those values.

“If you’re a company and you are going to put yourself out there and sponsor things and market yourself in a way that you could be associated with things that have some sort of risk or partisan value, you need to think about it an advance,” Slaughter says. “Because there are too many instances these days with things that go awry.”

Whatever values a company decides it holds dear and however it chooses to communicate them, Edelman and Slaughter say it’s important to have policies in place that keep employees—including top brass—from posting on social media about political, partisan or controversial issues.

“It’s all out there now and people are hypercritical, hypersensitive,” Slaughter says. “A single, quickie post can have real intense implications these days. It can become a huge deal.”