People depend on you. They depend on the projects you lead, the stories you tell, and the policies you enact. They believe in you because in many ways you demonstrate that you believe in them. You show them that you believe in their rights, their needs, and their ability to live a dynamic life filled with dignity. But why do so many brands lose the trust of the folks who backed them up for so long? Performance of a value oftentimes means much less than the actual program to your community. If you want to do your best work and continue building the trust that you’ve cultivated among communities actually living through the issues you’re trying to solve, you must find a way to tell your story without patronizing the issue or using it more for capital than transformation. You have to tell a story that includes the resources and tools people need to access things they need or impact their everyday life.
Just like with any good story, the work that you do as an organization or brand should show more than it tells. The moment that you look like you’re all talk, the moment people start looking for something else. Take for example the Burger King mistake of the year that surely had folks stunned and infuriated when they should have been commemorating Women’s Day. The tweet read “Women Belong in the Kitchen” and it was supposed to be highlighting a program designed to engage and center more women in the professional cooking sector, yet the tweet told a story that was hard to refute. Many communicated that the progressive women centered Burger King initiative was all talk, that they were not willing to apologize, and offered a conflicting message about what the brand thought of women in the first place. One Twitter user named that the original tweet that was a mere replication of a sexist trope which got more 576% more engagement than the second tweet the UK arm of Burger King tweeted with information about their new program. While the impacts on Burger King as a brand can most likely be repaired in time, the program they designed to tackle a meaningful issue lost traction and attention.
And it isn’t just Burger King, it’s about all of us. That mistake caused them to lose out on engagement that might have highlighted a powerful program designed to address inequity in the industry, and instead left them with a deleted tweet, lost money, and a tarnished public reputation. A mistake like this is possible for any of us when we rely too heavily on performance rather than communicating efficiently and innovatively to your community, many of whom are depending on the work that you do to give them access to resources, hope, and expanded networks. Nonprofits, media organizations, and government groups have strikingly low numbers when it comes to trust among Americans. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a very low 52% of American believe that nonprofits will “do what’s right.” And the numbers get lower and lower for heroes working in government, media, or the private sector. This means that in order for your work to have a strong impact on those who you work with, you must go the extra mile.
You have to recognize that many of the folks you work with are living in fear. They are anxiously awaiting the day someone they love will be targeted because of their race, legislated out of existence because of their gender, left out of the conversation because of their class. They want to know that you understand, and that you can help. There are a million reasons why people trust the work that you do and the reasons why you do it, don't clown them by becoming one of the brands, so out of touch with that reality they tweet instead of talk and tokenize instead of transform.
If you hope to have a real impact, while consistently gaining trust and working to build more trust that your brand will do the right thing, then it’s time to start co-creating with the community. Instead of relying on research that relies on traditional data collection that drives a narrative of a damaged community, center the hopes and dreams of your community as well. Look for the rich gold mines that every community has, then highlight and model your project after what has worked there previously. And when something new is required altogether, design something allows your community to shine just as much as you do.
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