Have you ever made an emotionally-charged comment regarding a current event on social media? What about a response to a political post? It might be indicative of how you truly feel about the issue; it might also be a reaction based on the limited knowledge you have about the situation. It might also have offended some people in the process. As an individual, you have choices. You can defend your beliefs or you can apologize to anyone you offended, delete your post and move on.  But, if you’re a well-known brand, these choices require more nuance: should you position your brand on one side of an issue or remain silent and avoid any engagement that might enrage the public or your brand loyalists? And if you have a strong opinion, should you leverage your brand voice to support or oppose an issue?

In a study done by Edelman in mid-2017, 57 percent of consumers responded that they were more likely to buy from or boycott a brand because of its stance on a social or political issue. Part and parcel, it can wholly depend on how controversial the issue is, how polarizing a brand’s response is and how loyal its following is. Consider these things before taking a stand on political and social issues:

Consider the Risks

Some brands believe that their willingness to oppose or support a controversial issue by risking a response can be detrimental to their success. Others argue that it can be better than not being noticed at all.  Neither thought is wrong. However, brands need to understand the repercussions associated with controversial statements; even if you’re comfortable front and center, you also have to understand the backlash and scrutiny your brand could face. Take your stand, and while it could elicit continued support, be prepared that it could also anger or alienate others.

Stay Positive

Have you ever heard that phrase: “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar?” Brands have a unique opportunity to influence values with positivity and authenticity.  Even if your opinion could be deemed unpopular with the public, a brand’s careful response can mitigate harsh criticism and is more likely to be considered simply by adding perspective and ignoring the urge to say something in spite.

Ask yourself why

Providing an opinion and taking a public stand on an issue can certainly elevate a brand’s position among its consumers. However, consider why you feel compelled to put your company in the spotlight. Is it an opportunity for you to align opposition or support with your company’s mission and values? Are you adding value and showcasing your commitment to being a responsible organization? Ensuring that your purpose has a natural connection to the issue, and isn’t some off-handed comment spoken out of anger, will better resonate with your customers and is more likely to gather support – or forgiveness.

The sheer size and public nature of brands can lead to repercussions for even the most innocuous statements. That doesn’t mean you should shy away from having an opinion – people respect and are loyal to the brands that align with their values. Instead, it’s important to carefully consider what you’re saying, why you’re saying it and all the people who could be impacted by your statement – and then decide if it’s worth it.

– Lori

As originally printed in the Sacramento Business Journal on 10/04/2018.