Taking A Stand On A Social Issue Can Carry More, Or Less, Risk For Brands

Research has shown that consumers respond to the position brands take on various issues—71 percent of people want brands to speak up on social issues—but data from business-to-business research, ratings and reviews firm Clutch shows some issues are more divisive than others.

Consumers are more likely to support businesses that take stances related to the environment (89 percent), human rights (80 percent), gender (74 percent) and to a lesser extent, politics (56 percent). Issues related to the environment and human rights are least likely to cause controversy.

“The environment and human rights are universal,” says Patrick McCaully, CEO of Pointman News Creation, a public relations agency. “These will always be issues that resonate with people.”

Political social issues are among the most conflict-ridden, Clutch found. People are more likely to stop shopping with a company that supports movements related to politics (15 percent) and gender (10 percent) than the environment (two percent) and human rights (five percent). The company notes, however, that according to PR agencies and experts, this is particularly challenging for businesses as the line between what is and isn’t political blurs.

Businesses that stay silent on issues, however, run a lower chance of losing customers than those that take a position. Clutch’s research found that 63 percent of people are likely to continue shopping at businesses that stay silent on issues they care about, while 58 percent say they would continue shopping at businesses that take stances on issues they disagree with.

“You don’t make the decision to jump into a social movement because it's trendy or to generate buzz,” says Scott Hancock, CEO of branding agency BLVR. “You do it because it is a belief that runs through the soul of your brand.”

For most people, 52 percent, social media is their preferred channel for businesses to communicate their stance on social issues. However, Clutch says that businesses risk losing control of the intended message and need to have a well-planned crisis communications strategy in place.

McCaully says, “Once you take a strong position through public relations or social media, it had better be what you believe, can back up and feel good about as a company because you’re going to open yourself up to criticism."

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