The Question of Sustainability

Sustainability has been a popular buzzword across many industries for some time, for lots of good reasons. Things that are sustainable are seen as forward-looking, wholesome, and respectful of the environment.

But there’s one area of business where we have to wonder whether it will be sustainable much longer, and that is social media. As important as it has been in the past several years, it is increasingly becoming a political and cultural battleground that is seriously threatening its marketing usefulness.

More and more individuals and businesses are finding themselves targeted by a “cancel culture” in which virtual mobs descend upon them if they say something the mob doesn’t agree with. People have been fired from their jobs and driven out of polite society for minor “offenses” that in any other setting would probably have been shrugged off and forgotten within a few minutes.

You may think you’re saying all the right things. But stray slightly from the mob’s orthodoxy, or make what seems like a truly harmless lighthearted comment, and you too can become a target.

The social media mob is small but its volume and vitriol make it seem larger. So businesses often surrender immediately, fearing a viral campaign against them that could lead to boycotts, personal attacks, and even death threats.

An environment like that, where you have to watch every word and image you post and constantly walk on eggshells, at some point becomes a place where you don’t want to spend much time. And that’s sad, because social media in its early days was a lot more fun. The platforms started out more free-wheeling and open, and if you really didn’t like what someone had to say, it was easy to block or un-follow them. Somewhere along the way it got darker, more authoritarian, and more vindictive.

It’s hard to do business today without social media, and unless some new platforms come along that can recapture that open and fun aspect our advice is to tread very carefully. Know that what you say today always has the potential to bring you regret tomorrow.