In a digital world where there’s ample opportunity for advocacy, there’s an expectation for influential profiles to take a public stance on political and social issues. Whether you’re an influencer or a large-scale company, your employees and/or the general public may expect you to make a statement or take some sort of action. In the past few years, we’ve seen an uproar on social media and an increase in the number of protests as organizing these types of events have become effortless. Just a few of the major recent movements that come to mind include Black Lives Matter, Me Too Movement, and Day of Silence.
But as a company, when is it appropriate for you to make public statements? Which current events should your company get involved in? How do you prioritize activism within your company and how can it affect your bottom line?
When deciding if your company should get involved publicly, consider the following:
Are you showing support or are your actions just performative?
Before putting out a public statement, consider how it aligns with your company values. If you put out a statement for every cause out there – and there are a lot – your channels would be bombarded with messages about all the causes you say you care about. This can easily take away from picking a few that you should be putting your efforts into instead. Over time, this will take away from your credibility; your customers and the public will feel that your brand is only participating in social and political conversations to stay relevant or generate revenue.
Does your public stance align with your company values?
Companies with large followings can make a real impact when they put their brand behind a cause. They can get picked up in the media, by bloggers, other influencers, etc. For those with smaller followings, it can create really engaging conversations, especially on social media with their loyal followers. This is a great way to build or retain brand affinity for those who resonate with the message. Customers or clients are no longer buying products and services just because they’re good. They also want to feel good when consuming the product or service and this includes everything the brand stands for.
However, when done in a performative way, your company may be at risk for being called out for woke-washing or inauthentic. An example would be when fashion retailer, Pretty Little Thing, released a tone-deaf tweet in support of the Black Lives Matter movement with this graphic.
Unsurprisingly, they were called out for the inaccuracy in representing a Black person’s hand. This tweet has since been deleted and Pretty Little Thing shared an apology.
Take action beyond just saying something
Put your money where your mouth is.
For years, Nike partnered with amazing male athletes like Lebron James, Tiger Woods, and Cristiano Ronaldo but in 2019, they declared their commitment to empowering female athletes. Beyond featuring inspirational women in their advertisements, they’ve improved or developed new products with the goal to enhance women’s performance. They introduced the world's first Pro Hijab for Muslim athletes in 2017, they increased their size offerings, and updated their sports bra technology.
Match your public statement/actions to your corporate culture
Putting out a tweet in support of a cause that seemingly has nothing to do with your brand, your core values, and even worse – the complete opposite of how you operate your business – is a sure-fire way to raise some eyebrows. This can act as an invitation for your previous and current employees to speak out against corporate culture issues they see and publicly challenge your statement.
Ben and Jerry’s does an incredible job at choosing causes they care about and communicating it to the public. More importantly, they also take action when given the opportunity or they create their own opportunities. An example of a cause that aligns with their brand is the easily accessible petition on their website calling for climate change. “If it’s melted, it’s ruined. It’s true for ice cream, and it’s true for the planet.” Very on brand and extremely relevant.
It’s crucial for you and your team to decide if it makes sense for your company to participate in a social or political conversation. But, this isn’t a decision that should be made by a handful of leaders and in one simple conversation. Your decision to take a stance should involve multiple discussions that touch on your corporate culture, business operations, and values.
When done improperly and without consultation from a larger team, you may end up sharing your founders or senior leadership’s views exclusively and not entirely in line with the rest of your employees. You can read about the downfalls of this in our recent blog, Has your company outgrown its magical origin story branding and four ways to diagnose.