We all live in a time dominated by public issues from nature to politics to society that polarize stakeholders and the discussions around these topics. We can assume that social activism is highly likely to raise in the future, which will lead to an increasing demand in responses and actions. There are so many opinions and everybody has a lot to say, which is a good thing if you ask me. The core question I like to raise is: how do you as a company handle and deal with the polarization of the public debate?
Maybe you stand still hoping it will pass on and simply go away? Believe me, I have been in situations in my career as leader where the decision to remain silent, presented itself as the easier option. But we all know, that easy isn't always the best. I remember one incident in Singapore where we went for the "easy way" which resulted in much more work and damage control on the long run. From that moment on: the smart way is my option:)
Regardless on which way you decide to go, there are market forces that demand attention. For example an increasing pressure on companies to do differently, to stand up, share their point of view and to respond to the audience need. Done smartly you can boost your brand, influence stakeholder behavior, create a differentiation from your competition and make a difference.
First of all, the most pressing question that needs to be answered is: What do we want to be known for? This question is vital, because it has a direct implication on your authenticity which is a key element in communication in general and even more when you take stand on social topics. Stakeholders are 11 times more likely to respond positively when they believe the company stayed true to its values. *4,5 times more likely to respond positively when they believe the company's engagement was consistent with its business goals.* And 6 times more likely to respond negatively to a message they believe to be inauthentic.*
We all experience the increased desire to discuss and debate various topics like for example:
Some companies already take care of social issues management in addition to crisis communications. Companies that take an active stand see the impact it has on their organization as well as customer behavior and use this as an instrument to their advantage.
Let's have a look at who is putting up the pressure on the communications department - (examples cases):
customers - can be motivated to communicate via social media when your direct competitor is taking an active view on a topic which will have a direct impact in your credibility.
employees - have an increased demand on company statements on topics like diversity and inclusion, people want to be proud of the work they are doing and the company they are working for and not be shamed by their peer group.
activists - respond directly on campaigns and challenge the company's mission and vision in relation to a particular matter or how they plan to make a difference in the future.
and executives - responding on pressure from shareholders or the HR department demanding a reaction to a particular topic.
I would not be surprised, if employees lead the list. Especially within the younger generation as purpose, attitude and taking a stand is a vital element to pick a future employer. If we now take the shortage of skilled labour force into consideration, it is self explanatory how important for companies it is to take a position.
Before anything else we need to be aware of the fact, that no matter what you say, write or publish: any sort of response will create a reaction. And not always a positive one. Your statement and attitude will polarize. You may say: in that case I better not say anything to avoid negative reactions. Of course you can do that, but the smarter way is to change your strategy from minimizing negative responses to maximize the outcome of positive responses, which will lead to positive reactions.
The goal should be, being able to make smart, informed and strategic decision.
1) Analyze the current situation
2) Analyze where you are today and where you want to head to
3) Check if the right leadership/capabilities are in place to steer in the right direction
4) Positively frame your messages/statements and articulate your company values and business goals as a rationale
5) Enjoy the dialogue, don't be sacred and remain positive and genuine
Audiences demand organizations and companies to take a public stand regardless of the product/service sold.
There is a gap between expectation and company responses.
Social topics addressed don't always deliver positive responses, but the positive outcome is higher than the negative.
Proactive communication even on "difficult topics" can create a positive impact on customer engagement and purchase behavior.
We all know that openness, transparency and authenticity creates positive outcomes.
You can make a difference on social topics. Let me know, your thoughts or if you need support.
About the author:
Birgit Baier is a Strategic Realizer - making complexity simple. She is international and digital at heart, a passionate Business Transformer with over twenty five years experience in leading digital and integrated marketing, innovation, brand development companies and managed strategic technology alliances/partnerships.
Creating meaningful solutions, products, services, brand experiences and delivering strategic innovation is what drives her.
You can book Birgit as a speaker: http://www.women-speaker-foundation.de/speaker_Birgit_Baier