When should my company take a stance on social issues?

As some brands forget the gender of their leadership teams until March and their monochrome brand identities until June, taking potentially controversial stances on social issues is becoming the new USP for businesses in 2022. We’re paving our way through a workplace era which no longer uses its shiny values and benefits of equal pay, mindful puppy yoga or maternity leave to solely attract or retain talent, it’s an opportunity for companies to make deft responses to political or social issues that allow their values to have tangible impact.

The decisions made regarding abortion laws in the US last month have stoked the necessity to support women’s rights further, allowing companies to demonstrate commitment to their ‘core values’; with Apple, Citigroup and Salesforce speaking out whilst making changes to their own employee health benefits to support women who choose to have an abortion.

In the past, brands have aired on the side of caution and shown a quivering hesitancy to respond to difficult topics and thus, after numerous meetings drowned in post-it notes and dried out Sharpies, concluded that responses should solely be made on a reactive basis, and only.. if necessary. However today, silence is no longer golden with brands such as Disney and Walmart being called out for largely having made no response to the recent abortion law changes, a decision which is a ticking time bomb on their reputation.

Knowing how and when to make a statement on social issues is critical to either enhancing or undermining your reputation as a brand and consequently your relationships with your key stakeholders. While engaging in political and social debates has the potential to help communicate your brand values and comment on areas you are passionate about it is vital that any statements or campaigns are backed up with tangible action.

Before issuing any external communications about potentially contentious topics it is critical to evaluate the current landscape and have a deep understanding of the potential risks and rewards of entering the debate. Any strategy should be underpinned by an informed, data-led picture of the current sentiment around specific social issues, how your key audiences are engaging with the topic (across a variety of channels) as well as the potential backlash to you getting involved.

It has been assumed and more recently hoped, that any business has women’s rights embedded within its basic beliefs, but how does a brand with glass chasms of pay inequality or a leadership team consisting solely of men comment on the topic? Brands should still speak out to share their frustration and commitment to supporting its employees throughout moments of political or societal crisis, even if there are holes in their own policies. However, this should be swiftly followed with remorsefully admittance that they are not currently doing enough, and changes will and are going to be made.

There isn’t a check list of what to do and when either, brands don’t need to make a stand on issues that don’t connect to them, although making sure you understand what issues you do stand for is a great starting point for a stronger and more credible reputation. Taking a step back and looking at why your business was founded can lead you in the right direction and decipher which issues you do want to take a stance on publicly.

Once your business has established what you stand for, you need to develop a strategy to demonstrate that commitment with your employees and wider business. How does this stance impact the day-to-day operations of your brand; for example, if you’re an alcohol brand of which water is a key ingredient you might commit to cleaner oceans and take a stand against pollution or look into the heritage of sugar supplies for your product to support the communities that provide a key ingredient.

Today there are countless causes and communities to stand for but making sure your hands are doing what your voice is saying, is crucial to find clarity on when to stick your head above the parapet.

If you’d be interested in discussing how our Reputation Management experts could help you navigate these issues, evaluate the risks and provide strategic counsel on how and when to get involved click here to read more.

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