Congratulations to Morgan Badurak who is the Fall 2023 Cision Insights Fellow, awarded by IPR. Her full paper can be downloaded here.

Is Corporate Social Advocacy the Pathway to Gen Z Engagement?

A Case Study of Amazon, SpaceX, and Trader Joe’s Legal Actions Against the NLRB on Social Media

Gen Z is a generation deeply invested in social advocacy, wielding significant influence over market trends and brand loyalty. Societal impact is not just a bonus but a prerequisite for support from this generation of consumers. Gen Z expects brands to reflect their values and actively champion social justice and advocacy both internally and externally (Coman et al., 2022). Amazon, SpaceX, and Trader Joe’s legal battle over workers’ rights with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) provides compelling case studies for understanding Gen Z’s expectations of brands to navigate socio-political issues. By embracing internal and external corporate political advocacy, brands can forge meaningful connections and secure long-term loyalty within this influential demographic while reaping the practical benefits of increased brand credibility, customer engagement, and sustainable growth.

Due to their socially and environmentally conscious nature, Gen Z values brands aligned with their principles, particularly in ethical labor practices (ICSC, 2023). Therefore, the NLRB lawsuits are beneficial case studies for understanding how internal and external corporate political advocacy (or lack therefore) impact Gen Z’s perception of and conversations around brands online. The study was a comparative analysis of messaging frames in Twitter discussions related to the NLRB and Gen-Z social media networks. The analysis was guided by research questions to uncover what frames Gen Z used to discuss the corporate action against the NLRB and how these frames differed from other generations. It also sought to examine the dynamics of Gen Z’s social networks and how their connections could shape discourse and impact perceptions of brand identity. 

Brandwatch data from January 1, 2024, to March 31, 2024, was used to answer these research questions. It was gathered with queries focused on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and general labor/union conversations on Twitter, resulting in 35,443 NLRB mentions and approximately 1.32 million general labor mentions. Duplicate panels were created to segment conversations between Generation Z (Gen Z) and non-Gen-Z users, with specific tags for Amazon, SpaceX, and Trader Joe’s for further analysis.

In examining Generation Z’s discussions surrounding corporate actions and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on social media, findings indicate that approximately 61% of Gen Z’s tweets expressed support for unions or the NLRB, a notably higher proportion than non-Gen-Z users. Neutral news sharing comprised around 32.48% of Gen-Z tweets, while opposition to unions or the NLRB was minimal at 3.51%. A comparison of Gen Z’s discourse with other social media users revealed distinct differences. Gen Z focused on specific messages and displayed a cohesive opinion, while non-Gen-Z users exhibited more varied views. While Gen Z focused primarily on pro-union conversation, non-Gen-Z users shared more neutral and news-focused content (approximately 55.24%), with greater diversity of opinion observed among them.          

Analysis of social media networks expanded on differences between Gen Z and other user groups. Gen-Z networks appeared to be more insular with less interaction between groups. This finding suggests that Gen Z engages more in localized discussions within their circles, potentially influencing brand discourse on social platforms. Lastly, the study explored how Gen Z’s framing and social networks influence their perceptions of brand identities. While it is difficult to make a direct correlation with this study, Gen Z’s positive union perspective in contrast with the lack of corporate social action had seemingly negative impacts on brand identity.

The study’s findings underscore Gen Z’s unique identity and online discourse compared to previous generations, revealing their cohesive networks and active engagement in social and political matters. Gen Z’s emphasis on corporate accountability and advocacy for social justice contrasts with historical consumer behavior, posing a challenge for brands seeking to authentically align with their values. However, this presents an opportunity for brands to forge strong, loyal relationships with this young consumer demographic. Gen Z’s online discourse reflects their capacity to drive meaningful change in consumer behavior and corporate practices. These findings offer valuable guidance for public relations practitioners and corporate communication leadership, suggesting the incorporation of corporate political advocacy, particularly in addressing employee labor movements, to bolster perceptions of overall brand image and loyalty among the socially conscious demographic (Coman et al., 2022). Based on these findings, the following takeaways are suggested:

1) Proactive Advocacy: Embed social justice initiatives into brand campaigns to resonate with Gen Z’s values.
2) Transparency and Accountability: Communicate openly about corporate policies and practices, demonstrating accountability for actions.
3) Engagement with Community: Foster connections with Gen Z through social media campaigns and events centered around shared causes.
4) Prioritize Authenticity: Steer clear of performative activism, opting instead for genuine engagement and transparent communication.

Morgan Badurak is a first-year media and public affairs doctoral student in the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. She holds an M.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Alabama and double-majored in Mass Communication (B.A.) and Music Industry Studies (B.S.) at Loyola University New Orleans. Her research interests are centered around social and digital media effects on socio-political issues in the United States. 

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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