FleishmanHillard recently released research on the growing expectation that businesses engage in societal issues. We called it Navigating Zero Gravity because of the challenges associated with taking a stand when there’s seemingly no solid ground.
The findings describe a new normal in reputation management, where businesses must be socially attuned and aware of the potential impact that an increasingly wide range of issues could have on their brands.
Gone are the days when reputation management was about command-and-control, and avoiding controversy was a 101 of the practice. The research finds that 61% of engaged consumers surveyed believe it’s important for companies to express their views, even if they disagree with a company’s position.1
And in our polarized society, we know that many of those consumers will disagree — no matter the position you take.
That’s why the research also includes five steps to create the conditions for a successful corporate response to today’s issues.
Five Steps to Find a Footing — Expected Behaviors Your Company Should Consider:
1. Make it about others.
Before you take a stand, make sure your actions back up your words. Taking a stand, or claiming a new position, needs to be in service of a larger purpose and people.
2. Lead with your leader on issues that matter most.
Taking a stand requires courage and conviction. Consumers want to hear from the CEO — the person who best reflects the values of the organization. Though highly credible, employees were viewed as the least important to speak on an issue or crisis situation.
3. It takes action, not just words.
It isn’t enough for the CEO to say something. Your company needs to do something. Engaged consumers expect companies to put skin in the game to help solve the issue. Dig deep and draw on the real essence of your company’s mission and values. Point to real evidence that you’re advancing or addressing the issue. That’s how you establish and maintain the credibility of your position.
4. Make it public.
One of the top expectations from engaged consumers is to make your position public. The research says it’s important to make a clear statement for everyone to see — on your company website and social media channels, the latter of which is a must to reach millennials.
5. Make the commitment deep.
Engaged consumers want to see companies developing new products and services that help solve the issue, while also making financial donations to organizations that may be working to bring about change. These actions can be done individually or collectively as part of making the commitment “deep.”
Societal issues can be complex. And the conversations can be nuanced, with potential impacts on many of your stakeholder groups. Following issues before they impact your company and understanding all your potential connections to them — from employees and policies to customers, suppliers and products, even political contributions and associations — can help you decide which issues you should engage on.
When you decide to take a stand, acting based on your company’s values is always the right move. And showing conviction by leading with your leader and making a meaningful commitment will demonstrate a sincerity that even those who disagree with you can respect.