Should your business speak out on social causes?
Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against Florida legislation after criticism of his silence began trending on social media. Microsoft stopped sales and service in Russia after releasing a sharply worded statement condemning Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And Goldman Sachs pledged $10 million to address racial and social injustice after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd.
From the Black Lives Matter movement to immigration and beyond, increasingly more companies and CEOs are taking a stand on social issues. The question is, should you?
Research suggests that the majority of people prefer supporting businesses with a social conscious. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 54 percent of employees globally believe that CEOs should speak publicly on controversial political and social issues they care about, and 53 percent of consumers agree that every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that does not directly impact its business. Members of younger generations are especially aware of where they shop and what brands they support, with 81 percent of Millenial respondents to a Nielsen survey saying their preferred companies make public declarations of corporate citizenship.
The numbers indicate that taking a stand on social causes could be good for your brand awareness and bottom line. But with the country more politically divided than ever and so much of your reputation on the line, many business owners have trouble deciding “to Tweet or not to Tweet.”
Just as there’s no one school of thought on today’s hottest topics, the answer as to whether your business should take a stand on social causes isn’t quite so clear. Here are a few questions to consider when deciding if you should speak out.
Does the issue align with my business’s mission?
It’s both impossible and impractical for one business (or business owner) to publish an opinion on every issue our world is facing today. While you should hold true to your company’s values, championing too many causes can come off as disingenuous. But chances are good that there are one or two social causes that already align with your business’s mission. For example, if you only sell sustainable products, it makes sense for you to have an opinion on the latest climate initiatives. Or if supporting women entrepreneurs is part of your business purpose, then by all means, go all-out for International Women’s Day. But beware…
Can you walk your talk?
If there’s one thing that consumers like less than “band-wagoning,” it’s business owners who commit to making a change at their company or in their community and, well, don’t. I’m sure we can all think of a business or two that pledged to “foster an inclusive and equitable company culture” in 2020, but its board has remained entirely white and male. Bottom line: before you post any promises to Instagram, make sure you can actually see them through.
How will you monitor your messaging?
Most of today’s most pressing social issues spark conversations about our society and culture that need to be had. And if all goes well, your Pride Month social media campaign should launch a discussion amongst your customers about what you are (or should) be doing to better support the LGBTQ+ community all year. You don’t want these discussions to happen without you, so don’t post and ghost. Have an honest conversation with your customers about why this issue matters to you and what you’re doing to make meaningful change. Just be sure that your messaging is sensitive to the feelings and concerns of those directly involved. The last thing you want is to accidentally come off as tone-deaf.
A company can certainly have a relevant social message that resonates with its target audience and that strengthens the brand – without ruffling anyone’s feathers. The key is to take concrete action on the cause you support.