When should a company speak out on social issues?
Against the backdrop of a changing civil society and social networks that can be both image-building and reputation-damaging, companies large and small are under increasing pressure to speak out on important political and social issues. Stakeholders want to know where companies and CEOs stand on rucial social issues.
The 2021 Edelman Trust survey found that 86 percent of all respondents expect CEOs to speak out on social issues, and 68 percent believe bosses should intervene when the government fails to address public problems.
The decision whether to speak out on political and social issues is different for every company. These three questions will help you decide how to proceed:
- Does the issue fit into the corporate strategy of the company you work for or lead? Consider whether it relates to the company’s mission and values. If it doesn’t fit with the topic you’re talking about, any statement will be held for inauthentic and illogical by followers and users.
- Can you influence the issue in a meaningful way? Consider whether the company has the expertise and resources to make a difference. The company’s opinion should not sound like “we just need to let it out.” It’s critical to help solve the case, even if only by addressing it.
- Will your customers agree with your company’s position? Of course, if key users generally agree with the proposed statement, the company significantly reduces the risk of business failure or decline. However, if they disagree or there is no consensus within the group, you must carefully consider the relative importance of the opinion to the company.
How is the opinion developed?
First, assign a forecasting and risk management team to monitor and study the current issues. Focus on the issues that are most relevant or likely to impact business strategy. The team should include representatives from the company’s marketing, communications, strategic and legal departments. It is good to have someone who can research the responses of other organizations or individuals who have spoken out on a particular issue and their findings. The team should also create a competitive intelligence map: Who are the most influential players speaking out on the topic? How does your company’s influence compare to that of other companies?
It’s best to constantly overview the whole situation, because change is already very dynamic and doesn’t leave much time for hesitation.
Second, create a space to express your opinion on the above cases. Use a communication strategy framework to focus your thinking on your key audience and what they need to do/think/understand, what they need to know, and how to measure success. Always ensure a good balance with brand and organizational identity because tight, realistic imagery needs to be organic.
Third, remember that there are no internal and external channels in communications. And keep in mind that the communities you build around your brand have a life of their own, whose pulse beat may have a different rhythm than the traditional one – the larger purpose, the idea of the organization, should always lead. Follow your positioning and speak to your audience – after all, personalities often take a stand point to crucial things in life.
Businesses need to be aware that the expectations of society, consumers, employees and investors about business are changing. Even if they have not yet decided to speak out on a potentially controversial issue, they will likely have to make that decision in the future. And these are some of the benefits of taking an open stand.
# Strengthen brand identity. Brand identity encompasses the visual design, tone of voice of copy, marketing and advertising efforts, and the company’s mission and core values. If a current social issue is related to the company’s core values, take a public stand on it. For example, if the company sells environmentally friendly products and environmental protection is one of the company’s core values, supporting a climate change bill can be a great way to reinforce brand identity and participate meaningfully in society.
# Raise awareness. Participating in a public debate or supporting a cause can bring attention to a company. The stronger the support, the more people will speak up. Not everyone will agree, but taking a stand is a proper way to get attention, with value being part of the essence of the organization. However, not everyone will be your friend, but you will know who is close to your opinion. The latter applies not only to customers but to employees, partners, and even competitors.
# Stimulate sales and loyalty. People will support brands that are relevant to a public issue. And, of course, this can improve sales results. It is crucial that you do not do this intentionally, because hypocrisy will be discovered immediately.