On Friday, January 27, President Trump issued an executive order that would ban immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries. By the end of that weekend, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised more than $24 million online—a total that is six times larger than their typical year’s worth of online fundraising.
For the nearly 100-year-old nonprofit, this groundswell of support was on a scale they’d never experienced before, and it didn’t stop at fundraising. Post–Election Day, the ACLU gained more than 1 million Facebook fans, quadrupled its Twitter following, and increased their Instagram following by 13 times.
While it may not be appropriate for every brand to enter the political fray, there are plenty of lessons that can be learned from groups like the ACLU about how to align your brand with a bigger cultural context to in order to grow your online community.
Timing Is Everything
In today’s 24-hour news cycle, brands need to respond quickly in order to take advantage of the online conversation around a particular topic or issue, or risk looking tone deaf. If the ACLU had waited until Monday to put out a statement around the travel ban, it may very well have cost them a majority of the $24 million they received.
Take Lyft and Uber—both have publicly committed to donating money to push back against the same executive order, but Lyft was quicker to come forward and ultimately “won” the PR battle as a result. (Uber, of course, was also busy handling other issues.)
Tailor Content by Channel
The ACLU reinforces its messaging across a wide variety of platforms in order to reach the widest audience. Yet, you won’t always see the same content across channels.
The ACLU understands the behaviors of its audience on each of its platforms, and tailors content accordingly. On Facebook, where users are likely scrolling through their feeds without leaving the app, they produce eye-catching graphics in hopes of inspiring the user to hit “like” or “share.”
On Twitter, they post links to news articles and retweet reporters who cover their issues. And on email, where ACLU can track individual users’ past actions, constituents may be asked to sign a petition around a topic they engaged with in a prior email.
Ditch the Script
While it’s important for brands to prepare a content calendar, they should trust their instincts (and marketing teams) when an opportunity arises to replace scheduled posts with carefully improvised tactics.
When protests of the immigration ban spontaneously broke out at JFK airport, rather than posting a generic social graphic outlining their stance, the ACLU went to the airport and captured Facebook Live interviews with lawyers on the ground, giving supporters an in-the-moment look at the action and garnering millions of views in the process.
Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s no denying that celebrities can help amplify your message. Actors like Sarah Paulson and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, singer Sia, and billionaire Shark Tank investor Chris Sacca were some of the celebs who tweeted in support of the ACLU, with many of them offering fundraising match challenges to their followers.
The ACLU was diligent about retweeting and thanking these celebrities, and in the future, they can proactively reach out to those celebrities who have supported them to maintain a strong relationship.