How to communicate during commemorative months

September 23, 2021

How to communicate during commemorative months

September 23, 2021

GGer David Kang draws lessons from a PR crisis involving a Florida county’s Facebook post for National Hispanic Heritage Month and explains how to respectfully communicate during commemorative months.

Commemorative days and months are meant to honor or celebrate an event, issue, or group. A county government in Florida recently showed us how NOT to communicate during commemorative months. On the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Broward County government put out this post on its Facebook page:

Outrage quickly ensued on social media, with users criticizing the account for being culturally insensitive and perpetuating racist stereotypes. After a few hours, the Broward County account took down the post, with a spokesperson apologizing and blaming the misstep on a “young employee,” but the damage was already done.   

This crisis that stemmed from a social media post highlights the importance of going beyond good intentions to ensure actions have good results. When acknowledged appropriately, commemorative events can foster inclusivity and educate people about the diversity in their communities. Here are three tips to keep in mind when planning how to respectfully communicate during commemorative months:   

Carefully choose language (and images) 

When engaging with a community, it’s important to understand the potential impact of your verbal, visual, and written communications. People from historically marginalized communities often deal with microaggressions in their daily life; a well-intentioned message won’t be well-received if it’s not culturally sensitive. In Broward County, the image of a hard-shell taco with maracas that the poster chose demonstrated a lack of knowledge and appreciation for Hispanic culture beyond reductive and racist caricatures. Organizations can instead elevate awareness of rich cultural histories by sharing educational resources or promoting external initiatives that support the community. Better yet – ask members of the community in question for their opinions and suggestions for how to honor them. 

Understand your audience  

According to 2019 Census data, 31 percent of the population in Broward County identify as Hispanic or Latino. Given the size of the community, the social media gaffe indicates a serious disconnect between the local government and the people it serves.  

These disconnects can occur when organizations fail to thoughtfully engage with members of their communities. When deciding how to communicate during commemorative months, avoid stereotypes, and don’t assume that one individual’s experience will be a universal one. Instead, organizations should focus on building an inclusive culture where people can feel comfortable sharing their lived experiences. From simply reaching out to members of the community to actively supporting affinity groups, organizations have a variety of ways to create avenues for people to share feedback and to ultimately build better relationships.  

Make an authentic commitment 

There is often a heightened sense of awareness when a commemorative event is quickly approaching on the calendar. However, organizations should understand that the work of creating a diverse and inclusive environment is, in fact, a year-round commitment.   

This process begins internally. Employers invested in building a diverse workforce should pay close attention to hiring practices to ensure a diverse mix of candidates are considered for positions; it’s critical to regularly evaluate which hiring strategies prove to be effective or not. When it comes to current employees, employers must ensure that different perspectives are represented throughout the organization and recognize when gaps exist. In Broward County, officials acknowledged that the employees managing the social media accounts were not Hispanic. While they have since apologized for their offensive post, they could have avoided this crisis had they consulted with members of the community first.  

It doesn’t have to be complicated to communicate during commemorative months without sparking a crisis. Embrace these opportunities to acknowledge, respect, and celebrate diversity by creating space to meaningfully engage with the communities being honored.