Sheep on rocky ground

June 2020 | Dialogue

Virtue Signalling, a Band-Wagon to Nowhere

When we talk about being green, Rachel, you know the industry can’t do right for doing wrong. That’s why we have to avoid this kind of messaging. Your team aren’t paid to jump on a band-wagon purely because something is trending on social media. | 4-min read

[Monday, 1pm. London Bank is under fire on social media after posts about melting ice-sheets. Eleanor Marshall, Head of Corporate Communications, asks Rachel Williams, Digital Marketing Director, to tell her, in a video call, what went wrong.]

ELEANOR: Rachel, thanks for getting back to me so fast.

RACHEL: No worries. What’s up?

ELEANOR: Charles was just on the phone. People have been bleating all morning about the posts we put on social media, the ones about melting ice. As you are aware, we could really do without this right now.

RACHEL: Without?

ELEANOR: I don’t know – ill feeling, more blame, another rant? Everyone is working like crazy to get through this COVID thing. Colleagues don’t need more bad news.

Anyway. What went wrong?

RACHEL: How do you mean?

ELEANOR: Rachel! That image – eagles, blue sky, a snowy mountain – perfect for a box of Swiss chocolates! And all the waffle about the things London Bank is doing to ‘arrest’ climate change?

RACHEL: I see.

ELEANOR: When we talk about being green, Rachel, you know the industry can’t do right for doing wrong. That’s why we have to avoid this kind of messaging.

Your team aren’t paid to jump on a band-wagon purely because something is trending on social media. What on earth was David thinking?

RACHEL: We were responding to that news from Cambridge University, about the ice-sheets, that before long they might be melting ten times faster than today.

ELEANOR: What does that have to do with banking?

RACHEL: A lot, I think?

ELEANOR: Right. Well, that’ll be blindingly obvious – to anyone that clicks on your headline, reads our Sustainability Report, then bothers to think through it all.

How many people on social media will do that?

RACHEL: I think we’re missing…

ELEANOR: The point? The point is, how many people go beyond the headline? LinkedIn is full of companies telling the world how amazing they are. Most of it, complete nonsense.

Yes, we are doing good things. Yes, we have a fabulous story to tell. But do you – does David – really believe a message like that will achieve anything?

RACHEL: It was a bit rushed, maybe.

ELEANOR: A stock photo. Generic words. Contrived timing. The whole thing just plays into the hands of the Twitter mob!

Some companies act as though a press release or tweet will change the world. But we are not one of them. Also, if we are serious about making a difference we can’t waste time to ‘engage’ with screaming halfwits on LinkedIn.

RACHEL: I hear you, Eleanor.

ELEANOR: We know lots of people see the company name, and think, ’Ah! Bankers!’ – then off they go, back to 2008. They make so much noise sane people can’t hear themselves think.

RACHEL: Eleanor, it’s getting us down as well. Even David said something the other day about how so many people on LinkedIn now are just like ‘Look at me! So PC! Click ‘Like’ if you agree!’

[Zoom reroutes their conversation via a basement in Shanghai, and each woman sees for a long 10 seconds the blurred, motionless face of her colleague.]

ELEANOR: Rachel, this thing will blow over, I’m sure. We have to be more careful with what we say, that’s all. As you know, the markets are jittery enough as it is.

RACHEL: This one fell through the cracks, I admit. To be honest, Eleanor, managing a remote team is not easy – some people require loads of attention. And that day I was up to my neck in the other thing, about Helena’s non-exec role.

ELEANOR: I get it. But we have to stop this from happening again. Or at least not give people ammunition.

RACHEL: I’m sure we can learn from the experience. I mean, it will be better if we put stuff out there only when we really have something new to say.

ELEANOR: That means we have to sit tight when the latest band-wagon comes along. Or at least think before we get involved.

RACHEL: You keep saying we should talk to customers first. So that gives us chance to work out a plan for social media.

ELEANOR: At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: why are we commenting in the first place? Twitter doesn’t care what London Bank is doing. Any post we make has to be relevant to our own business.

RACHEL: Yes, that’s kind of what I meant before.

[Eleanor turned as one of her dogs crashed in from a side room. She looked back to the camera with embarrassment.]

RACHEL: Eleanor, just a thought: do you still feel there’s no point to bring in a copywriter, to help David out? He’s good but needs someone to push him to be a bit more creative.

ELEANOR: Could you not help him with that?

RACHEL: We have had this conversation. I don’t have time. Well, not until things get back to normal.

ELEANOR: OK, I’ll do what I can. It’ll be easier to squeeze something through now – the sixth floor won’t want a repeat of today.

RACHEL: I realise the Bank has a role in pushing for change. As we’ve said all along, social media can really help with that.

We just have to focus more directly on our own industry and what we ourselves have already done. Also, where we need our customers to work with us, right?

ELEANOR: That’s it. And then make sure we don’t get sucked into saying stuff just because everyone else is. Virtue signalling by corporates is even more annoying than those people who glue themselves to electric trains.

RACHEL: Extinction Rebellion are not…

[For once, Rachel catches herself.]

RACHEL: Eleanor, this has been really helpful. I’ll write up some notes and send them round to the team.

ELEANOR: And I’ll loop back to Charles and tell him you’ve got everything under control. I’ll e-mail you about the headcount as and when.

RACHEL: Sounds good. Thanks for the support.

Right, will leave you to it. Enjoy the afternoon.

Image George Miller | Unsplash

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