should your brand have a stance on social issues

Donald Trump makes racial slurs, gay marriage becomes legal in all 50 states, and the whole nation gets in a heated Facebook debate about the confederate flag. Needless to say, these past two weeks have been extremely eventful in terms of political and social events.  As a result, Twitter and Facebook were exploding and trending topics and hashtags took over everyone’s timeline. Suddenly Facebook came out with the rainbow filter and companies like Target and Ben and Jerry’s were showing their support for the marriage equality ruling.  In the midst of all of this social buzz it can be hard to determine whether or not your business should weigh in on these issues and utilize the exposure that comes along with using #LoveWins or similar hashtags.

This week we engaged in a very informative Twitter Chat on the topic of how brands respond to social/political issues that was facilitated by Adweek.  This Twitter chat was especially interesting because of its relevance as well as its controversy.  The responses to the questions that Adweek proposed varied, which made for an enriching conversation.

Q1. Should brands be a part of political/social discussions? Why? #AdweekChat

This first question started off the chat strong and solicited a variety of responses ranging from yes, brands should have a voice, to no, brands could potentially alienate certain groups.

The “yes” side had the following take away points:

  • Consumers appreciate when brands have a voice
  • Weighing in on social issues humanizes the brand
  • It can establish meaningful connections

The opposing side had the following points:

  • Brands are not people, therefore should not voice their opinions
  • They may come off as though they are just jumping on the bandwagon
  • There may be backlash from consumers with differing view points

Getting behind a hard yes or no on this question is tricky for every company. No matter which way your company decides to go the important thing to keep in mind is that it should come from a genuine place, and not from a need to gain exposure or exploit a trending hashtag. Which brings us to the next question.

Q2. For brands, what’s the key to taking a stand on a social issue without seeming disingenuous or out-of-touch? #AdweekChat

Take away points from the answers:

  • Taking a stand, only to promote a product, is looked down upon
  • Make sure your message stays true to your brand’s values
  • Be non-judgmental with the position you are NOT siding with
  • Take the time to research the issue you are taking a stance on

This question and the discussion it lead to was critical, because if a company does decide to take a public stance, it must be done carefully. Companies should not just jump on the bandwagon to use the moment or promote a product; it is distasteful and will likely result in backlash. Rather, if the stance matches up with the company’s longstanding values, then it does not seem misplaced when the stance is taken.

Final Thoughts

Deciding whether to use social and political issues in your marketing strategy is a relevant question that every brand should ponder. In the world of social media, things are thrown at us quickly and there’s little time to think about these big questions. Therefore, having advance discussions with your team will help keep everyone on the same page as to how to respond to certain issues as they arise. It’s great that brands are moving towards being more transparent with their consumers, and while it’s true that talking about the issues that affect them the most is one way to connect with consumers, it’s important to take some time to figure out what messages your brand wants to convey, one controversy at a time, and with the upmost respect, of course!

To see more questions and answers to this topic and other weekly topics by Adweek check out the Hashtag  #AdweekChat

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