Not all that long ago, business owners wouldn’t have dreamed of taking a political stand—it was all too easy to alienate customers. But in today’s politically charged environment, do they have a choice?
In Global Strategy Group’s latest Annual Business and Politics Study, 84 percent of U.S. consumers believe companies have a responsibility to bring about social change, 83 percent say a brand’s values are important to their purchasing decisions, and 70 percent say corporations should stand up for their political beliefs, whether controversial or not.
However, even if your customers expect you to take a stand, doing so can be tricky. Nearly six in 10 respondents in a recent survey by YouGov will boycott a brand for its political views. Consider Keurig, which found itself in a firestorm after pulling ads from Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show last November.
When Hannity defended Roy Moore, the defeated Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, outraged Twitter users urged businesses to pull their ads. But Keurig was quickly hit with a backlash as Hannity supporters boycotted the company and posted videos of themselves smashing Keurig coffeemakers. Within days, Keurig apologized for “taking sides,” infuriating even more consumers.
Clearly, small businesses taking a political stand walk a fine line. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you keep your balance.
- Do consider your customers. By choosing a stance on one side of a partisan divide, you’ll alienate customers with opposite views. Even if 75 percent of your customers support your position, can you afford to lose the other 25 percent? If you feel strongly enough to take the risk, have a plan for using your political stance to generate brand awareness and attract new customers.
- Don’t fake it. Any political stance you take should be authentic to your brand. Millennial consumers are passionate about supporting companies based on social values, but they’re also quick to sniff out phonies. If customers sense you’re just jumping on a bandwagon, you could face a backlash from all sides.
- Do consider your employees. Don’t assume all your employees feel the same way about an issue as you do. Realize taking a political stance could hurt your business financially, and your employees could suffer collateral damage, facing criticism for being part of the business.
- Don’t wing it. Talk with your team about your company’s values and how best to express them. You’ll be better able to respond in a timely fashion if everyone is clear on your company’s values ahead of time and have worked out a strategy for communicating your positions on social media.
- Do your homework. When taking a political stand, consistency counts. Suppose your retail store garners local praise for supporting a $15/hour minimum wage. Then the Twitterverse finds out that a brand of clothes you carry is made in a sweatshop overseas. Make sure you live up to the values you’re touting.
- Don’t respond in haste. Social media outrage over political issues creates a sense of urgency. Remember, what your business says on social media can’t be taken back. The GSG study notes there’s a fine line between responding too quickly on social media and waiting too long.
- Do keep it positive. The bitter partisanship in politics isn’t helping our country, and it won’t help your business, either. If you do take a stand, be a unifier, not a divider, by focusing on the positive. Suppose your business opposes the Trump administration’s decision to allow elephant trophies from Africa into the U.S. Instead of criticizing the administration or the policy, share information about organizations that help protect endangered species, get involved with these groups and urge your customers to join you in effecting positive change.
As the political rhetoric heats up, it’s going to get even trickier to take a stand. Before you speak out, make sure you’re aware of—and prepare for the consequences.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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