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For Context: Navigating the Corporate Gun Control Conversation


A little over a month has passed since the devastating shooting at an El Paso Walmart. Since then the topic of gun rights and gun control have taken center stage online with people urging retailers and brands to take a stand on the issue.

This is easier said than done. Like any hot button issue there are multiple sides and opinions. Meaning no matter what decision a brand makes surrounding gun control, they can expect to be included in the overall conversation, and to face a degree of criticism and backlash.

Navigating this conversation can seem nebulous. New Knowledge is actively monitoring the industry wide conversation as it pertains to open carry and gun control at large companies to provide context on who is driving it, and what motivates them. Here’s the breakdown of what makes up the larger conversation and how you can keep up with it.

When brands take a stand

The public is calling on companies of every size, across every industry, to take action and choose a side of the gun debate. Brands take a stand every day on a variety of issues. Fashion brands are including models of different sizes in their ad campaigns. Fast food restaurants take a stand on sustainability by reducing their use of plastic. This list goes on. But taking a stance on gun control requires more than just a marketing campaign or a press release.

A few brands have been early to navigate the conversation and take action. Within the last month Walmart’s CEO announced that Walmart will no longer sell guns and ammunition, and encouraged its customers to not carry guns while shopping in Walmart stores. Additionally, last week over 145 CEOs wrote a letter to the Senate asking that they pass stricter gun control laws. And back in March, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that it would no longer sell guns. The decision was both applauded and criticized.

Taking a stance on this issue is a huge brand risk. Prior to making the type of announcement along the lines of Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods, it’s important for brands to understand the landscape of the conversation so they can be prepared. Brands should strive to answer these questions: who is talking about this issue, who will align with their stance, and most importantly what are they saying.

Gun Control: Who is driving this conversation

The New Knowledge solution identifies the groups that are driving online conversations. We call these groups factions. Factions are hyperactive groups of users that are bonded by a common culture, and motivated by what they love and hate. They are the under currents of the Internet and social platforms rely on them to push forward their content. Conversing among users that share similar beliefs often enables their opinions and beliefs to spread beyond their echo chamber and into the mainstream conversation. This has the ability to further influence other parts of the larger conversation.

In the last two weeks 11.8% of the total gun conversation surrounding brands has been driven by factions. The entirety of the conversation includes millions of posts, making 11.8% an incredibly significant amount of the conversation to be faction driven.

The colorful slices within the conversation overview wheel represent the different factions that are a part of this conversation and the percentage that they are contributing.

Here are the top factions that are driving the corporate gun control conversation and what motivates them.

Populist Right

This faction is primarily made up of conservative influencers on Fox News, Twitter and other social media platforms who are vocal proponents of conservative politics in the United States. They are primarily concerned about the perceived bias against their politics in the media, both journalism and mainstream culture, and are particularly sensitive towards perceived progressive agendas or messaging in popular media. Over the last few years they have become more openly hostile or willing to call for boycotts against companies they feel are culpable for advancing a socially liberal agenda.

Pro Gun Patriots

The Pro Gun Patriots faction is made up of accounts that have a strong affinity for the United States, patriotism, as well as gun rights. Common hashtags that they use include, #libertarian, #gop, #oathkeeper, #goa, #american, #codeofvets, #lnyhbt, #republican, #magaveteran, #patriot, #catholic, #pjnet, #teaparty, #tcot, #constitutionalist, #defundpp, #voterid, #nra, #usaf, #america, #conservative, #navy, #trumpsupporter, #liberty, #benghazi, #fbts, #ccot, #molonlabe, #ccw, #tlot, #μολωνλαβε, #2ndamendment, #tgdn, #2nd.

QAnon Believers

QAnon Believers are far-right, fringe conspiracy theorists. They follow Q, an anonymous influencer claiming to be a top government official, who has a series of conspiracy theories involving top figures in Hollywood, the Democratic Party, and intelligence agencies; Q frequently connects these groups and individuals to pedophilia rings. This group is very tight-knit and highly motivated – they tend to circulate messages and conspiracy theories quickly and broadly, often speaking in obscure jargon or references to Q’s theories (e.g. “The Storm Is Here,” “The Great Awakening,” “Where we go one we go all”). While this group frequently accuses mainstream entertainment and political figures, these narratives have largely been ignored by the mainstream media.

Military Spouses

Accounts that self identify as a US or CA military spouse or veteran spouse.

2nd Amendment Advocates

This faction contains gun owners and 2nd amendment supporters from a wide range of communities. Some self identify as liberal gun owners who agree with gun control advocates, while most support Trump and conservative opinions. They engage in any type of conversation that revolves around guns or the second amendment (#2A).

What is being said

Within the factions driving the conversation, it’s important to know what they are talking about to get complete context.

Below you can see a breakdown of the different topics and keywords that frequently appear together within this conversation.

Through topic modeling and keyword grouping you can detect the correlation and association between certain words and define larger underlying narratives.

Within this conversation, we have identified two narratives that represent how individual users within these factions are engaging with the topic and spreading their message throughout various social channels.

Support of the brands banning open carry

With many retailers and brands publicly announcing their stance on open carry within their stores, those that support their decision have vocalized it online.

Outrage at second amendment infringement

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have users that are unhappy with brands that are banning concealed carry in their stores. They believe that it infringes on their second amendment rights.

Moving Forward

We live in a new political reality, where brands can no longer sit on the sidelines and remain silent and apolitical. Today’s customers have come to expect brands to use their influence to take a stance on the issues that matter to them.

The challenge is whichever stance you take, not everyone will agree with you. In turn, it’s up to brands to take stances that align most with their values. The ongoing gun control debate is a heavy and tricky conversation to navigate, but it’s essential to have context to communicate authentically.

To learn more about the gun control conversation, or to learn which factions are talking about your brand, please contact us here.

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