If Billy Joel wanted to write another We Didn’t Start The Fire type song he’d probably have enough headlines from the last five months alone. 2020 has been pretty dramatic and from the pandemic to record unemployment to the George Floyd protests; there’s plenty going on in people’s lives which is causing them to reevaluate their priorities, including as they relate to social media.
We’ve previously documented the huge spike in conversation around Cancel Culture (which often leads to unfollows), and there’s at least anecdotal evidence that the social media audience is looking to hold brands to a higher standard around social justice issues, and will unfollow brands that don’t reflect their values. For example, people saying they’ll unfollow brands on Instagram because they’re drowning out the voices of other small artists in their feed; not wanting to hear about brand promotions at a time like this; and talk about joining a TIkTok trend of unfollowing people who Like Donald Trump on Instagram.
To better quantify the trend of people unfollowing brands, we dug into our social media analytics and here’s what we found.
Insight #1: The Social Audience Is Talking About Unfollowing Brands More
There were 302% more Tweets mentioning both the words Unfollow and Brand during March – July 2020, compared to March – July in 2019. That outpaces the grow in the general conversation around unfollowing on social media, for example there were 147,993 Tweets mentioning both Unfollow and Instagram between March – July 2020, a 93% increase from March – July 2019 when there were 76,696 Tweets that mentioned both Unfollow and Instagram.
While it doesn’t answer the question of if people are unfollowing specific brands more during the pandemic, they’re certainly thinking more in general terms about unfollowing brands on social media.
Insight #2: There’s No Evidence Of Instagram Followers Abandoning Entire Industries
On August 1, 2020; there were 1,280,891,295 total Instagram followers around 1,847 Fashion brands that ListenFirst tracks, up 6% from the volume of Instagram followers those brands had on March 1, 2020. The Fashion Industry may be hurting right now, but the pandemic isn’t causing fans to unfollow their favorite brands.
Similarly, it doesn’t appear that the movie industry is significantly losing Instagram followers, even with most major movie releases being delayed for a year or more. For example,The Fast & Furious sequel, F9 had 3,866,836 Instagram Followers on August 1, 2020; a -2% decrease from the volume of Instagram followers the movie had on March 1, 2020. Additionally the James Bond sequel, No TIme To Die had 1,250,528 Instagram Followers on August 1, 2020; a 9% increase from the number of Instagram followers the movie had on March 1, 2020.
The increase in Instagram followers can be even more dramatic with non-franchise movies. For example, the thrice delayed film Tenet had 51,858 Instagram followers on August 1, a 132% increase from the number of Instagram followers Tenet had on March 1, 2020.
While it remains to be seen how and when fans can view these films, they’re definitely still interested.
Even around airlines, there’s no evidence of losing fans; as 78 airline brands had a cumulative total of 44,598,916 Followers on Instagram on August 1, 2020, up +3% from March 1, 2020.
Insight #3: Promotional Posts Not Costing Celebrity Influencers Followers
It’s not unheard of for there to be individual complaints about too many promotional posts by celebrities, for instance the Tweet above about a fan unfollowed Dwayne The Rock Johnson on Instagram because of too many promotional posts about his tequila brand. However, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of scale around that sentiment. For instance on August 3, 2020; Dwayne Johnson shared three posts on Instagram promoting Teremana Tequila. He still generated 137,963 new Instagram followers on the day. Likewise, Ryan Reynolds posted an ad for Mint Mobile on May 4, 2020 on his social media accounts and generated 7,824 new fans or followers on Facebook and Twitter. As long as there’s nothing offensive in the ad, and the content is consistent with the infleuncer’s persona, promotional ads aren’t going to result in lost followers.
Insight #4: Black Lives Matter Protests Aren’t Damaging Brands On Social Media – But They Are Amplifying Self Inflicted Wounds
Generally speaking brands managed to either post about Black Lives Matter protests with empathy or chose to not talk about the protests at all, with neither strategy leading to brands losing fans on social media. However there were a couple of exceptions, where brands either through their posts or their actions managed to make insensitive decisions that led to losing followers.
On March 31, Shoddy Lynn, the founder of the fashion brand Dolls Kill posted on her personal Instagram account, a picture of over 15 police officers protecting a Dolls Kill store with the caption “Direct Action in its glory #blacklivesmatter”. Widely viewed as a statement endorsing police brutality, there were immediate calls on social media for a boycott of Dolls Kill. The brand issued a series of apologies, including offering to commit $1 million dollars to buying clothing from black-owned fashion brands in a post that generated 80,032 responses on Instagram, and an Instagram video apology from Shoddy Lynn. However, neither apology was seen as forceful enough and between June 1 – July 7, 2020; Dolls Kill lost -247,918 Fans, Followers or Subscribers across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and primarily Instagram.
Meanwhile, even though there’s no evidence that staying silent on George Floyd’s death was a problem for brands, getting caught explaining why you’re staying silent could be. That’s what happened to CrossFit, when audio was leaked to Buzzfeed of CrossFit’s then CEO Greg Glassman saying about George Floyd on a Zoom call, “Can you tell me why I should mourn for him? Other than that it’s the white thing to do?” That article was posted on June 9 and Fan Growth for CrossFit was down -584% during June 10-21, 2020 compared to May 29 -June 9, 2020.
The other problematic approach around bringing up Black Lives Matter is using it as a form of deflection. For example, Jeffree Star, the beauty vlogger and founder of Jeffree Star Cosmetics, has a long history of being accused of racism, and has lost -2,248,748 followers on social media between June 9 – August 9, 2020; primarily on Instagram and YouTube. In a video seemingly meant to apologize to rival beauty vlogger James Charles, he switched focus to talking about Black Lives Matter and the injustices against the black trans community, which many people on social media saw as him refusing to accept accountability for his own actions.
In all of these examples, when brands or influencers are talking about Black Lives Matter related topics and coming from an inauthentic place; they’re getting in trouble because the social media audience judges your words against your actions.
Insight #5: Controversy Doesn’t Inherently Means Losing Fans On Social Media
When Robert Unanue, the CEO of Goya Foods went on the White House lawn saying the nation was “blessed to have a leader” like President Trump, it might have been a divisive statement but it wasn’t inherently a social media problem for Goya. At first, there was a significant backlash; for instance, on July 9, 2020 there were 50,741 Tweets that mentioned either Goya and the phrase Boycott or the hashtag #Goyaway. However, there was a subsequent backlash to the backlash where supporters of President Trump voiced their support through following. During the week of July 10-16, 2020; Goya generated 317,979 new fans, followers or subscribers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; an increase of 314,075% from the previous week.
While it’s not yet clear if the controversy helped or hurt Goya in terms of sales; on social media it resulted in Goya’s Fan Footprint on social media increasing by 46% in a single week.
Insight #6: Kneeling Is Not Hurting The NBA On Social Media
On August 5, President Trump stated in an interview that it’s disgraceful that the NBA is kneeling during the National Anthem and that he turned off the game when he saw it. The NBA generated 32,432 new Fans, Followers or Subscribers on social media during August 5, 2020 an increase of 26% compared to August 4, 2020. Since the NBA bubble games began, looking at July 30 – August 10, 2020 and with their players kneeling the whole time, the league generated 452,967 New Fans on social media, a 6% increase from the previous time period.
Similarly, NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag on June 10, 2020 and if that was a controversial decision, it isn’t reflected in the social media data. On June 10, NASCAR received 4,769 new Fans, Followers, or Subscribers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube; which was an increase of 4,520% compared to the previous day.
As much as it might sometimes seem that social media can be a cesspool of negativity; all the social media data indicates that the audience is much more likely to take the positive action of following a brand than taking the negative action of unfollowing a brand. Even as the audience is talking more about unfollowing brands in general terms, short of an outright PR crisis, brands should not be concerned that a large percentage of their audience will stop following them on social media during the pandemic.
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