In today’s increasingly divisive political and social landscape, many brand managers might think that silence is the best route.
However, keeping quiet on current controversial issues can present a lost opportunity for those looking to boost consumer loyalty and brand reputation.
Sprout Social’s Championing Change in the Age of Social Media report revealed that 66 percent of consumers want organizations to take a stand on political and social issues—and more than half (58 percent) are open to that happening via social media.
Sprout Social said:
Intentionally or not, social media has provided an easy-to-access environment for issues to become more partisan. However, the ability to hide behind a digital profile has paved the way for aggressive, even hostile, social media communications. This is especially true in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and this divide shows itself most clearly in the void between liberal and conservative parties online.
On platforms that have become so polarized, what’s a brand to do? The reality is, brands can’t please everyone. Their customer communities are simply too broad. Instead of letting this scope paralyze their communications efforts, brands making their values clear must understand and prepare for reactions that are just as diverse as the people they serve.
Along with statements on social media, consumers said brand managers should take part in discussions about politics or social issues on television or radio (47 percent), along with organizations’ websites and blogs (38 percent). Other tactics, such as print ads, newspaper stories, email, digital ads and billboards are less popular channels for such discussions.
“Not only do [consumers] want to hear from brands, but they expect brands to converse in intelligent and impactful [sic] ways,” Sprout Social reported.
Not all issues are created equal, either.
More than half of consumers (58 and 55 percent, respectively) feel that organizations should take a stand on human rights and labor laws, and nearly half (48 percent) said organizations should speak out about poverty and gender equality. Other top issues include the environment (45 percent), education (45 percent), race relations (43 percent) and health care (42 percent).
Ultimately, the decision to speak out about hot-button topics should be carefully considered by each organization’s brand manager(s).
While it’s impossible to know how people will react to every social or political stance taken, brands can prudently insert themselves “into only the right situations to prevent unnecessary backlash,” Sprout Social said. “It’s up to brands to strategically pinpoint when social media provides the opportunity to engage relevant audiences on issues they care about, invest in or are specifically affecting their business at the moment.”
Forty-seven percent of consumers said issues that affect an organization’s customers boost a brand’s credibility when speaking out. Consumers also said talking about issues that affect an organization’s employees also boosts credibility (40 percent), and 31 percent said credibility increases with issues that affect business operations.
History matters less
Fewer consumers said a history of speaking out or an organization being in the same geographical area as the current political or social issue boosts a brand’s credibility on the subject (27 percent). Only 26 percent said a history of giving financial donations would matter, and only 25 percent said outspoken executives would boost an organization’s credibility.
Should values come from the top?
If you’ve decided to take stand, it doesn’t matter too much if your organization’s chief executive speaks out or if it comes from your organization’s official channels.
Thirty-four percent said brands and CEOs are equally influential when talking about social and political issues, while 27 percent think a brand account is more influential (16 percent believe an organization’s chief speaking out more effectively influences consumers).
For communicators who are afraid of the risks associated with speaking out on hot-button topics, Sprout Social reported that consumers are more likely to have positive emotional reactions than negative ones.
Though 53 percent said they’d purchase less from an organization that makes political or social statements with which they don’t agree, only 38 percent said they’d warn their family and friends, and only 33 percent said they’d boycott a brand.
Conversely, 44 percent of consumers say they’d purchase more from organizations that speak out on subjects with which they agree, and more than half (52 percent) said it increases brand loyalty. Thirty-five percent said they’d recommend the organization to family and friends—a few percent less than those who would warn their social circles.
How about you, Ragan/PR Daily readers? Are you wading into the political thicket these days, or refraining from controversial stances?