In today’s politically divisive culture, social media has given rise to the expectation that brands will weigh in on current events and share their values as a way to better engage their audiences. And while many brands have been hesitant to get involved for fear of backlash, those that have strategically seized the opportunity are being rewarded.
New research from Sprout Social reveals that consumers are increasingly looking for businesses to make social and political stands a part of their public presence on social media and beyond.
The firm’s new study, Championing Change in the Age of Social Media, finds that two thirds of consumers feel it’s important for brands to take a public stance on leading social and political issues like immigration, civil rights and race relations and more than half (58 percent) are most receptive to this happening on social media.
Sprout Social surveyed more than 1,000 people in the U.S. about how they want brands to communicate their positions and engage in conversations on political and social issues. Findings from the study create a blueprint for how brands can responsibly and effectively take part in these conversations to build lasting relationships with customers.
Key findings include:
Brands face more reward than risk
Consumers’ most common emotional reactions to brands taking a stand on social were positive, with “intrigued”, “impressed” and “engaged” emerging as the top three consumer reactions. Likewise, people will spread the word when they agree, but won’t take action when they disagree. When consumers’ personal beliefs align with what brands are saying, 28 percent will publicly praise a company. When individuals disagree with a brand’s stance, only 20 percent will publicly criticize the company.
Liberals are galvanized by brands that take stands, while conservatives are indifferent
78 percent of respondents who self-identify as liberal want brands to take a stand, while just about half (52 percent) of respondents who self-identify as conservative feel the same. Likewise, 82 percent of liberals feel brands are credible when taking stands, compared to just 46 percent of conservatives.
Brands can’t change minds, but they can effect change
66 percent of respondents say posts from brands rarely or never influence their opinions on social issues. Rather, respondents believe brands are more effective on social media when they announce donations to specific causes (39 percent) and encourage followers to take specific steps to support causes (37 percent), such as participating in events or making their own donations.
Consumers want to hear from company leadership
Although respondents are almost twice as likely to say they’d rather hear about social and political issues from a company than a CEO on social media (22 percent versus 13 percent, respectively), people still feel C-suite members have a duty to speak up. And they especially want CEOs to use their voices—59 percent of respondents say it’s important for CEOs to engage with consumers and followers on social and political issues on social media.
“Brands that effectively navigate strategic decisions around when to take a stand on social have more opportunity than ever to turn potential risks into business opportunities,” said Andrew Caravella, VP of strategy and brand engagement at Sprout Social, in a news release.
“People not only want brands to speak out on social, but they want authenticity and values communicated cohesively by company leadership as well,” he added. “People want to feel socially and politically connected to the brands they support—and while vocalizing opinions may drive away some customers, it will ultimately engender greater loyalty and enthusiasm from people who agree.”