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Advocating for Social Issues on Social Media

Did you know that millennials are impacting the method and delivery of philanthropic efforts? As opposed to fundraisers or one-off donations, they prefer to integrate the causes they care about into their daily routines and purchasing behaviors. But what does this mean for social media?

Millennials (aka, me!) are more receptive to cause marketing than previous generations and are more likely to buy items associated with a cause. We also expect companies to support the social issues and causes we care about. Even though we do ask for a lot, we reward companies for this type of behavior with brand loyalty and purchasing habits.

You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that millennials are not alone in this mindset. 62% of consumers 55 and older also say that they find it “somewhat important” to hear from brands on social or political issues. 

While this does include buying from companies that do things like make clothing out of recycled material or donate a portion of proceeds to the oceans, that could be a whole separate blog post. Today we’re going to be diving into how brands can effectively and impactfully engage with their audiences about social issues on social media. 

Right off the top, it’s important to address the risk. Brands and their brand managers can be hesitant to attach themselves to any specific cause or issue that might offend, alienate, or scare off a section of their consumers that might believe differently. And while this risk is real, the reward is just as real. 

Taking responsibility

Corporate social responsibility is the practice of businesses aiming to contribute to philanthropic, activist, or charitable natures through engaging in ethically-minded practices. Some research suggests that consumers respond better to brands that display corporate responsibility. In fact, 73% of people believe that companies should do more than just offer a product or service.

While the expression goes, “the customer is always right,” the brand and the company can also benefit from this mentality of offering more. Not only can you provide your customers with something they’re looking for — a cause behind your product or service — but you also get the chance to expand your brand name and your mission beyond just your employees or boardroom. 

One of the strongest connections you can make with an audience is over a shared value, and at the end of the day, brands adopting social media as a tool can use social issues to help foster that connection. 

Cultivating connections

A study from Sprout Social shows that 91% of people believe in the power of social media to connect people, and 78% of consumers prefer brands to use social to help people connect with each other. As mentioned before, these connections can help grow revenue and the bottom line. When customers feel connected to brands, more than 50% of consumers will increase their spending with that brand, and 76% will buy from them over a competitor.

By cultivating this connection, what you should actually be aiming for is to motivate change. Consumers who are connecting with brands are looking for brands to do what they are not as easily able to do — direct financial resources and facilitate processes for others. This is achieved by showcasing your investments or actions around an issue. You can also provide avenues for your audiences to engage and contribute themselves. This might look like:

Donating a portion of your proceeds and tracking how much is given on Twitter.
Posting links to bills or laws that are up for debate that relate to issues you’ve decided to speak on.
Showcasing ways your company works with organizations that enact change.
Documenting when your company gets involved in local organizations.
Writing blogs or thought leadership posts about the issues at hand.

Proceed with caution, however. It’s not as simple as taking a stance deemed as “correct” and then posting without thought. Your audience is expecting genuine comments from you. If your customers perceive that you’re faking it to follow trends, it often doesn’t end well. 

Handling the critics

As I mentioned before, this route is not without risk. However, the best way to mitigate risk is to be upfront about what it looks like and be prepared. 

The same study from Sprout Social tells us that when consumers disagree with a brand’s stance:

53% may purchase less from it

33% may boycott

20% will publicly criticize the brand

Yikes. While those numbers aren’t fun, it’s important to remember that a majority of customers report they’d be more loyal to brands that support social and environmental causes. 

So how do you handle those who might disagree?

No response is a response.

If you know that your platform is solid and the call to action is legitimate, there’s not always a need to respond. Letting your values speak for themselves allows you to continue to take the high road as opposed to replying to every unhappy Tweet.

Let your fans defend for you. 

In most cases, it’s not even necessary for you to defend yourself. If you are creating awareness around an issue that incites controversy, allow the audience that does stand with your core value to do the work for you. They’ll often show up in better ways than you can.

If this, then that — a classic!

Plan ahead with your team. Create IFTTT statements from all those who might be needed (CEO, CFO, VP, etc.) ahead of time so that if a media outlet requests a comment, you already have it ready to go. 

Set up internal communication plans for every possible situation. If there’s an overall positive reaction, go with Plan A. If there’s an overall negative reaction, go with Plan B. By thinking through all the possible outcomes before you launch, your team can rest easy knowing they’re ready to handle anything.

Align with your shareholders.

Be intentional and make sure everyone internally is on board about what issues to focus on and how to approach them. You don’t want someone to get a surprise.

You don’t have to come right out on your business Facebook Page and endorse a 2020 candidate, though. Start with issues that impact your local community or that are important to your employees. 

While it seems daunting, having a voice for social issues on your brand is quickly becoming the norm. At some point, you must speak up. Silence can now be taken as complicity and allows society to take control of your narrative. In doing so, this gives someone other than your brand manager or community manager the leverage in whatever agenda they’re pushing. 

About Haley Williams

Haley Williams is a PR pro living in Indianapolis. She enjoys her book club, too much Mexican food, and being a cat mom.