How to Successfully Join Political Conversations

07.12.2017 | Christie Melby

Through various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, brands not only have an avenue to engage with customers, but a way to build a personality and express the brand’s values. And it doesn’t stop with brands. These platforms, along with opportunities to contribute content to well-established media outlets, enable executives to express their perspectives, interests and company successes, as well as connect and communicate with customers.

With increased connectedness and transparency, there is increased responsibility. Traditionally, companies and leaders have avoided joining political conversations in fear of alienating customers. However, that approach may now lead to the outcome they are trying to avoid. According to this study, when a “values-oriented” company took a stand, 24 percent of participants made unplanned purchases, but when the brand did not comment, failing to meet the expectation of the customer, the number of unplanned purchases dropped to 9 percent.

Luckily, brands and CEOs are becoming more open to the idea of speaking out. In 2014, 36 percent of global executives thought it was important to take a stance on policy or political issues. In just two years, that number has increased by 10 percent with 46 percent of executives from large companies preferring that companies speak out on issues such as climate change, gun control, immigration and LGBT rights. The number climbs even higher, to 63 percent, when considering CEOs that work with “world-class” organizations.

With the contentious political climate we’ve seen an increase in the number of executives and brands taking a stance on policy. While many have been praised for sharing their insightful perspectives or committing a brand to a promise that aligns with its values, there have been instances in which speaking out has not led to positive results. For example, the vice president of public affairs at New Balance publicly expressed the company’s objection to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leading customers to boycott New Balance and even going so far as to share images of the shoes in the garbage or burning on social media.

Clearly, speaking out on politics can still present its issues, so when choosing to do so, do so in a thoughtful manner, be well prepared and consider all potential outcomes. Here are a few tips to contemplate when commenting on political topics.

  1. Make a clear connection between the brand and the policy. As seen with the travel ban, many brands and executives spoke out against it. However, when speaking out, the executives explained why they disagreed, many of them citing the companies’ inclusive company cultures and diverse, global workforces as some of the reasons for their strong objection. A clear connection will allow people, even those with differing perspectives, to better understand your desire to comment and the nature of your comment. In addition to watching larger policies and the resulting discussions, monitor the changing political landscape in your industry specifically to determine if there is an issue you feel passionate about, or that you are expected to comment on. It may not get the same pickup as the widespread policies; however, it will likely capture the attention of others in your industry, establishing you as a thought leader.
  2. Take action or offer a solution. To be frank, nobody likes to hear people whine. If you plan to speak against a policy, explain a proposed change or solution. Help people understand your logic by illustrating different ways to approach the situation. Or, if the situation is more white and black, show how you plan to commit your brand to follow the company’s values despite the current landscape. For example, in June, President Trump chose to withdrawal the United States from the Paris Agreement, yet 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses are negotiating directly with the United Nations to show their commitment to sustainability efforts and maintaining the standards of the agreement. Michael Bloomberg said they are “[doing] everything America would have done if it had stayed committed.” This action clearly demonstrates the dedication and values of these cities, organizations and companies. They are talking the talk and walking the walk, likely earning them more respect from potential audiences.
  3. Stick to your messaging. As with any topic, have clear, concise messaging prepared. This is especially important in situations that involve commenting on politics, as you are more than likely to receive negative feedback and hear from audiences that disagree with your position. In addition to this, political conversations tend to get emotional, so having messaging (and some supporting evidence) to fall back on will ensure that all of your statements are thoughtful and effective, leaving a lasting impression on your audiences.

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