July 2020 saw an unprecedented and month-long Facebook advertising boycott by over 1,000 companies as many organizations began publicly changing their relationship to the platform. The boycott was largely organized around the Stop Hate for Profit campaign in response to Facebook’s laissez faire approach to Groups and content promoting racism and misinformation.
For many purpose-driven organizations, the internal conversation leading to these changes had been brewing for some time. As a panelist at SOCAP in 2019, I was asked if I worked with any clients that had chosen to remove themselves from Facebook. My response: “not yet, but I can’t wait.”
This past summer, amidst anti-racism demonstrations, a global pandemic, and increasing political polarization, it happened.
Diamond + Branch had been creating social media content on behalf of our long time client, Tides, for less than a year. Our audience-focused approach and high quality execution generated significant growth in both audience size and engagement. This was especially true on Facebook, where our followers were progressive folks with money to give but little experience in philanthropy or impact investing.
As the presidential election drew closer, the client services, marketing and communications professionals at Tides became increasingly wary of Facebook. Civic engagement and voting rights has been a focus of their work for decades, and Facebook’s policies around misinformation and fact checking were just too passive. They decided to stop using Facebook as an act of organizational integrity.
At the same time, I had been slowly reducing my personal Facebook activity. Its active promotion of and profit from hate speech, unhealthy user incentives, and exploitation of privacy were things that I was having a hard time overcoming. No surprise that I jumped at the chance when Tides asked me to help them craft and execute the plan for their divestment of Facebook activities.
I immediately set to work on a strategy brief. Our goal was to respectfully and quietly leave the platform, without ambiguity or attention. The plan broke down like this:
First, we’d realign our audiences and channels. This would mean an increased attention to Twitter and LinkedIn, including the reallocation of budgets for promoted content. An updated Facebook cover photo would provide a call to action to engage on those channels, as well as encouraging folks to subscribe to the email newsletter.
And second, we’d make the Tides Facebook page dormant. Keeping the page was intentional for three reasons:
- To pin a post that clearly informs visitors about our position and encourages them to connect with us elsewhere.
- To keep control of how Tides appears on Facebook, preventing any misinformation while protecting the brand.
- A dormant page and audience can be revitalized in the case that Facebook’s policies change to be more acceptable in the future.
With this plan in place, I got the green light to draft the pinned post communicating the move to our audience. As a progressive philanthropic and advocacy powerhouse for more than a generation, the Tides brand uses strong, aspirational language like “daring change,” and “bold solutions.” My goal was to take this approach, tempering the direct language with deep empathy to effectively speak to the moment and deliver a punch.
Rather than send you to Facebook, I’ll share the full text here, as it appears now:
Starting on August 1, 2020, Tides will stop advertising, posting, or engaging on Facebook. We cannot condone, actively or passively, the ways in which Facebook’s business practices are working against all that we are trying to accomplish.
While we fight for civic engagement, Facebook profits from the spread of disinformation through ads.
While we fight for racial justice, Facebook allows racism and hate to spread through the problematic and violent content that is created and disseminated on its platform.
While we fight for a healthy democracy, Facebook’s business practices undermine civil rights, an informed citizenry, and individual privacy.
Unless Facebook makes sweeping policy changes in how they manage users and content that is patently false, hateful, damaging, demeaning or in other ways harmful, Tides will refuse to validate these undemocratic and dangerous policies by using Facebook’s platform.
To join our fight, find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or subscribe to our email newsletter.
The results of this decision and the way it was implemented are understandably tricky to report on, since it was not a choice motivated by metrics or outcomes. We knew we were cutting off an active audience engagement platform, but thankfully Tides leadership was incredibly supportive of the choice and how we executed it, and the marketing team was enthusiastic about the approach. We did observe an immediate and continuing increase in new email subscribers, which we hope is an indicator of their Facebook audience choosing a deeper commitment to their content…..
I asked Sheila Lewis, Interim Director of Marketing + Communications for Tides, to provide her thoughts on our collaboration. Like a good consultant, I’ll let the client have the last word:
One of the cornerstones of success for Tides and our marketing communications partners is collaboration. We know that this generates more powerful and creative solutions and working with Lindsay on this initiative showcased that. We brought to her our decision to leave Facebook, one that she totally supported, and she brought to us a plan that was executed flawlessly. Ideas were tossed back and forth with Lindsay who was always willing to hear, challenge, refine and integrate our thoughts. This was a key strategic decision for Tides and we are proud of our decision and grateful for the support and guidance from Lindsay.