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How to Make Your Social Outreach More Genuine and Organic

10 minute read
Scott Clark avatar
Brands that want to take a stand on social issues and connect with similar-minded customers must focus on one thing: authenticity.

With all of the social and political hot-button issues today, customers expect brands to speak out and take a stand, running the risk of isolating other customers or, worse, appearing to gaslight their customer base.

How can brands make their social outreach efforts more organic and genuine? With issues such as war, women's rights, BLM, LGBTQ+, climate change, January 6 and more, should brands worry about offending customers who are on a different side of the fence? How can brands enable their customers to take action?

“If you are in the business of trying not to offend anyone, you will ultimately be in the business of offending everyone. Take a stand.” — Brian S. Gross, BSG Public Relations

Brand Authenticity

An article in the International Journal of Consumer Studies defined brand authenticity as “the extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful and true toward itself and its consumers, and to support consumers being true to themselves.”

When brands are authentic in their social outreach and can relate to customers on a particular issue, those customers are more apt to stand behind the brand and its actions. Brands that stand up for social issues can do so in a supportive role, as an ally, providing passive support for change with limited action, or in an activist role, being proactively involved in protests and movements.

“Brands are at a challenging crossroads where customers expect them to weigh in on social issues, but in doing so they will inevitably offend at least some," said Ronica Cleary, founder and CEO of Cleary Strategies, a full-service PR firm and communications agency. While consumers want brands to be authentic and engaged in discourse, Cleary explained that they'll also see through — and judge — commentary that's forced and insincere.

The best thing companies can do, she claimed? Build a set of core values and beliefs — when those topics aren't being hotly debated — to support. "This will allow for clear-headed planning and strategy about how they will voice their beliefs to the public if and when they are forced to do so."

Some brands think staying quiet or trying to placate every audience member is the right path to take. However, this stance could come with more problems than benefits.

“Brands can — indeed, must — stay true to their core values when using social media to engage customers," said Bruce Mendelsohn, principal at The Hired Pen. "Brands lose trust when they try to embrace trends like greenwashing or pinkwashing or position themselves as being all things to all people. Brands that want to inspire trust amongst their followers and motivate their followers to ‘do something’ must stay on message."

"Basically," added Mendelsohn, "don’t claim to care about something if your actions contradict your claim.”

Related Article: Unforgettable Customer Experiences Share a Common Trait: Authenticity

Outreach Topic: Roe v. Wade

The United States Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade is undoubtedly a hot-button topic, but that hasn’t stopped brands from taking a stand on what many consider to be a workplace, diversity and economic issue.

In fact, major brands across practically every industry have issued statements of support for their employees, guaranteeing to pay for travel to states that allow abortion, cover abortion costs through insurance or provide paid time off for treatment. Companies include:

  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Microsoft
  • Bumble
  • Google
  • Starbucks
  • Box
  • Kroger
  • Tesla
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • Uber
  • Lyft
  • HP
  • Mastercard
  • JP Morgan Chase
  • Wells Fargo
  • Yelp
  • TikTok
  • DoorDash
  • Adidas
  • GM
  • Bank of America
  • Netflix
  • Gucci
  • Nike
  • Reddit
  • Paypal
  • Sony
  • Disney
  • CVS
  • Adobe
  • American Express
  • American Airlines
  • Target
  • IBM
  • Intel
  • Dell
  • Patagonia
  • Bloomberg
  • Deloitte

roe v wade

Google’s chief people officer stated that employees residing in states with abortion bans could apply for relocation. Patagonia went so far as to say it would bail workers out if they were arrested at reproductive rights protests.

Some industries, such as heavy industry and manufacturing, have minimally issued statements of support, while others, such as the tech sector, make up almost one-third of all companies that have taken a stand. Other brands, like Walmart, UPS, FedEx and Home Depot, have remained notably silent on the topic.

Outreach Topic: Black Lives Matter

The results of a 2020 Mitto survey of 1,000 Americans revealed that customers support brands that take a stand on their values.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said it's important that a company's Black Lives Matter-related statements are not only empathetic but are followed by measurable action. These customers indicated they're also eager to do something themselves, with 71% of Americans aged 18–24 saying they're more likely to take action around BLM-related issues when sent a direct text that includes details and links.

Not only that, but 53% of those polled said they are unlikely to buy from a brand if they have a negative perception of its communication during the BLM movement. This sentiment is the strongest among 18–24-year-olds (61%) and women (52%). These customers are also interested in knowing the impact their donations make, with 87% stating it's important that brands regularly provide updates on their part in the movement.

black lives matter

Brands reacted to the BLM protests of 2020 in many different ways. Ben & Jerry’s issued the following statement on its website and Twitter page:

“What happened to George Floyd was not the result of a bad apple; it was the predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system and culture that has treated Black bodies as the enemy from the beginning.”

LEGO pledged to donate $4 million to “organizations dedicated to supporting black children and educating all children about racial equality.” Other brands choose to support black-owned businesses, and some, such as Feeld, created a resource page for BLM activists and supporters.

Related Article: 4 Companies Taking a Stand on Social Issues That Matter

Outreach Topic: War in Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, was a tipping point for world security, the international economy and the global energy supply. Immediately, the world recognized it for what it was — a grave humanitarian crisis. Along with the war itself came cyber-attacks, economic hardships and a looming threat of nuclear war.

According to data from the UN Refugee Agency, as of June 29, 2022, more than five million people have left their homes in Ukraine for neighboring countries.

At the beginning of June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated in comments to Luxembourg's parliament that at least tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have died, and in Mariupol alone, officials have reported over 21,000 civilians dead. Zelenskyy said that 60 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying in combat each day, with 500 others sustaining wounds.

ukraine

Learning Opportunities

So, where does this leave brands who want to stand with Ukraine against this war?

Many brands shut down their Russian operations, including McDonald's, Starbucks, Heineken, Little Caesars, Mars (maker of M&Ms and Snickers), Yum Brands (owner of KFC and Pizza Hut), Nike, Sony, Disney and more. Financial Institutions Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Western Union have also suspended operations in Russia.

Other brands have reacted by reducing or cutting advertising investments in Russia, while yet others have released statements announcing that they stand in unity with Ukraine.

Some brands, such as Apple, have responded to the war by halting sales of their products through the Apple Store in Russia. Netflix suspended its service for Russian subscribers and refused to carry 20 Russian free-to-air propaganda channels. Elon Musk's SpaceX ensured Ukrainians that its Starlink internet service was active in Ukraine, with more terminals en route.

Unlike other social or political issues, it’s hard to find any opposition to the support of Ukraine and easy to point fingers at those who support Russia. Many brands have allocated funds for donations, displayed public support on their websites and otherwise continue to stand behind the country and people of Ukraine.

Lyle David Solomon, principal attorney at Oak View Law Group, told CMSWire that after Russia invaded Ukraine, it was widely accepted that Russia should be boycotted, and brands that were doing business in Russia should pull out to hinder the Russian war efforts and economy.

“In this case, there are certainly no two ways about it, as Russia did initiate the war and invade Ukraine, and it would be morally right to stop fueling its economy to prolong the war," said Solomon.

He added that, even if some people felt differently about who is to blame for starting the war, it's a "no-brainer" to oppose Russia. "It shows that the brand cares for people affected by war and is trying to stop it in whatever way possible."

Outreach Topic: LGBTQ+ Pride

Babar Khan Javed, talent director at Brainchild Communications, a Pakistan-based communications group, told CMSWire that, as with other social causes, simply changing a logo to incorporate a rainbow flag is little more than tongue-wagging and, in and of itself, can appear to be disingenuous.

“Adding Pride colors is becoming meaningless virtue signaling," Javed said, "and feels to me like it's more about profit than people. Pride isn't just another capitalist holiday. It's about equality and for a lot of people still, it's life or death." Javed added that more telling than the short-term appearance of a logo is the long-term business culture.

Acta non verba is an ancient slogan and translates to “action, not words.” Javed explained, "Pride is all about visibility and adding Pride colors is a way of showing support to your LGBTQ+ customers and staff. But on the other hand, it's rarely backed up with any positive action for the community at large. What are these companies actively doing to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people?"

LGBTQ+

Last year during Pride month, Burger King debuted new pride advertising in support of the LGBTQ+ community and introduced the Proud Whopper. The Proud Whopper itself was no different than any other Whopper, but its rainbow-colored packaging stated that "We are all the same inside."

Burger King posted a video of the reactions of people to its Proud Whopper, and although not everybody was a fan, reactions were largely positive. Burger King remained supportive of the LGBTQ+ community even in the face of criticism, a move that showed their commitment and sincerity.

“Once a brand takes a specific viewpoint on a subject," said Solomon, "it should not deviate from that. It should continue its messaging along those lines and promote that stand as it moves along."

If a brand moves away from its initial viewpoint or attempts to cater to both sides of a social issue, it will out itself as insincere, according to Solomon. "It would show that the brand is merely trying to put its name out there and is not genuine in its words.”

Related Article: Great Brands Respect Their Customers: 3 Rules to Keeping it Authentic

Final Thoughts

With so many volatile, hot-button issues at hand, it has become impossible for brands to remain silent on the conversations that affect their customers.

By showing their concern and commitment to social and political matters that ring true to their values, brands can ensure their messages are seen as genuine and organic and not just commercial lip service.