A corporate social media manager on why she’s clapping back at homophobes

A Pride Week campaign by telecoms company Spark brought out the worst in some internet commentators. Spark social media manager Frith Wilson-Hughes explains why she decided to respond.

I spent much of last weekend battling folks on the internet. To be honest, it’s not how I generally like to spend my weekends, but this was important. Specifically, I was battling folks over a sweet little vignette of a pair of dads and their infant son, which we posted to announce Spark’s partnership with OUTLine, a confidential telephone support and face-to-face counselling service available to the LGBTQI+ community and their families and friends.

As this is a campaign especially close to my heart, I’d been extra nervous about how my queer friends would react to it. I know that before I worked for a corporate I was pretty cynical about corporates feeling they have a place in any conversation around Pride. Turns out I needn’t have worried about the cynical gays quite so much as the homophobes. Goodness gracious, y’all, the homophobes. I knew there’d be a few, but wow.

The negative comments you’ll see on the post itself are about 80% of the total – some of the truly awful rhetoric is automatically hidden by the profanity filter. A few of the comments sting a bit because I’m reading them as a gay woman who would actually quite like to create her own little family. I must remember that some comments are really positive and encouraging – I even posted a photo from my wedding day – and lots of people loved that! But it’s the negativity that really sticks in your mind, eh.

It’s astonishing to me that we share this planet with people who vehemently believe that couples who have ‘chosen’ to enter into same-sex relationships ‘don’t have the right’ to be parents. There are people who cry unfair because babies born into same-sex families don’t have a choice (um, I hate to break it to you but it turns out this is a bit of a universal situation for babies), and there are a LOT of calls to repent from all that sin. Seriously, so much chat about sin.

I’m forever thankful that my employer doesn’t have five thousand layers of approval in terms of what we can say on behalf of the brand in social. To me this illustrates that those in leadership trust that they’ve got the right people representing us. (Even if those people do sometimes say ‘Bye!’ with a little wave emoji in response to a customer who threatens to take her business elsewhere because she doesn’t like the fact that gay men can be loving parents.)

Some of the calls we’ve been making as a brand lately are progressive, and can be polarising. Given Spark was once a fairly conservative company I appreciate the leadership that this takes, right from the top. I hope that for the most part I’ve got the tone right when I’m speaking to customers who are in opposition, but I’m personally really glad we’re not so averse to risk that we shy away from talking about complex issues.

There’s no ‘best practice’ for being ‘authentic’ as a brand on social media. The only way to be genuine is to actually be genuine, and the only way that anyone’s going to pick up what you’re putting down is if your individual views are aligned with the values of the brand you’re representing, and if you know what the heck you’re talking about. Please read this as a very large hint for corporates to ensure they’re hiring a diverse bunch of people.

Truly though I’m not all sass. I try my best to be as reasonable as possible, and I don’t want to congratulate myself but I do believe there’s a little bit of an art to it. Anyway, if you find yourself wanting to argue with People Who Are Wrong online (and I do not blame you), here are a few things I try to bear in mind. This is obviously most useful when you’re representing a brand, but honestly, I feel like it’s probably relevant in general life too.

  • Validate people’s individual views and experiences, but only if they’re expressed respectfully. Know that there are some fires to which your reply will just add fuel.
  • If you’re representing something you (or your brand) (or both!) believe in, don’t backtrack, don’t apologise, and don’t grovel. It shows integrity to respectfully agree to disagree.
  • Accentuate the positive – make sure to reply to those who support what you’re trying to do.
  • Adjust your tone. You wouldn’t talk to your best friend in the same way you’d talk to your racist uncle, and you wouldn’t talk to someone who’s pleased with you in the same way you’d talk to someone who’s upset with you.
  • Share your personality where it’s appropriate. Vulnerability is bravery.
  • If you mess up, a sincere apology goes a long way.
  • When it comes to sass, there’s a line. If you’re unclear as to the location of the line, keep quiet. Remember if your comments are on a public thread, you’re not just speaking to the person to whom you’re replying.
  • Take plenty of deeeeep breaths.

A little bit about the campaign:

It’s very easy for corporates to jump on the rainbow bandwagon during Pride month, often without much thought or effort going into providing any tangible support for the LGBTQI+ community. We’ve felt for a couple of years that Spark should speak up during Pride. But we also felt we needed to earn the right to be a part of that conversation by first supporting our people by gaining Rainbow Tick accreditation as a workplace, and then by supporting an LGBTQI+ organisation that serves all of NZ.

So, to mark Pride 2018, we’ve announced a partnership with OUTLine, a confidential telephone support and face-to-face counselling service available to the LGBTQI+ community and their families and friends. This partnership and the campaign around it is one of the projects I’m personally most proud to have been involved with during my time working here.

The main campaign video shows real-life couple Chris and Marc with their young son Lucas at home in Christchurch. Chris and Marc, just by living their lives and loving their kid, are an example of courage to those around them and just might be a source of hope for LGBTQI+ folks who are looking to become parents one day too.

As a member of the LGBTQI+ community in New Zealand I feel like it’s important to appreciate where we’ve come from as a society and those who’ve been instrumental in getting us to this place, often at great personal sacrifice. With this in mind we wanted to invite Kiwis who have been influenced positively by the rainbow community to voice their appreciation by saying #thankstoyou.

Disclaimer: Spark sponsors The Spinoff’s music section, but this piece was commissioned separately from our commercial arrangement.


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