How much money would it take for you to post a comment about healthcare or the most recent presidential election on your company’s social media profiles?
The mere thought might make the hair on your neck stand up, but what if $3 billion was on the line?
It just might be.
Because fear of a media circus makes most brands back down, here’s some news you might have hoped to avoid hearing: your company needs to take a stand on controversial social issues to stay relevant to your target market.
If you do it right like Starbucks’ stand on same-sex marriage, you might be in the running to rack up a profit similar to its two-year revenue gains of 27 percent - a cool $3 billion.
The Internet is a well-known hotbed for enraged commentary, and you’re probably thinking just how much is at stake by associating your brand with a polarizing social issue. Simple gaffs often are skewed out of proportion, leading most brands to post innocuous tweets for fear of an epic public fail. But if you look closely, most of these monumental fails were completely inappropriate and piggybacked on tragedies like the Colorado movie theater shooting or Hurricane Sandy.
The truth is that your brand’s stance on controversial issues is important. Consumers make all kinds of inferences when discerning the personality of their favorite brands. When they can’t pin down that personality, especially on core emotional issues, they assume the worst: that your leadership is government-grade bureaucratic nonsense hamstrung by timid PR people and uncaring executives.
Don’t make consumers guess your personality. Instead, determine what your company’s stance is, and don’t look back.
Related Class: Branding 101: Defining Who You Are
How to Determine Your Message
The secret to taking a stand that benefits your brand is to invest thought and planning into your position and follow through wholeheartedly. Here’s what you need to know to take a stand on social media that will end with a flourish, not a fail:
- Make sure your view conforms to your corporate culture.
If your corporate culture is built on your values, most of your employees will likely agree with you, and it won’t be a surprise to the media when you speak out.
Chick-fil-A is a well-known supporter of traditional biblical values. When its CEO came out strongly against same-sex marriage, it wasn’t shocking. Contrast this announcement with Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s surprising stance against Planned Parenthood, which caused its contributions to plummet by 22 percent.
- Consult first- and second-level segmentation reports.
It’s vital that you have a clear understanding of your brand fans’ values and attitudes toward issues, but you should also consider other closely engaged users in case they hold opposing views. Very large, established consumer brands, such as Coca-Cola or Cheerios, can often have a mishmash of far-right and far-left media and celebrities. In this situation, choosing one side over the other may irrevocably damage your brand.
- Don’t be creative with marketing data hunches.
Although brilliant marketing is often about conforming data to your hunches, this isn’t one of those times. The emotions that drive social issues tend to obscure points of view. That premise should be your only experimental factor, so you need to move forward with a facts-only analysis.
- Start slow.
Taking a stand on hot topics such as gay marriage, abortion, or healthcare requires confident leadership over time. When you choose an issue, warm up the media with small, slow tweaks that lead the way, such as Cheerios’ commercial from May 2013 that included a multiracial family, which led up to its 2014 Super Bowl commercial featuring the same family.
- Don’t look back.
When you’ve asked your ardent fans to defend your point of view on social media platforms, you can’t go back on your stance without making them feel betrayed. Brands that reverse their opinion or back down, like Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s wobbly stance on funding Planned Parenthood, will enrage and embarrass loyalists and fuel the fervor of loudmouths on both sides of the issue.
Staying tight-lipped on controversial issues that are central to your brand’s fans is more than a missed opportunity; it’s a perplexing behavior that can make you seem cowardly.
Don’t be a chicken, but don’t be foolish, either. Use these tips to take a stance that will result in the passion, engagement, and loyalty of your die-hard fans.