Should you talk about social justice issues as a business?
As a social impact marketing agency, it’s easy for us to say yes. Heck, it’s expected of us. But for entrepreneurs and small business owners, it might not be so clear.
So we went to the polls.
In May, we took a poll on our LinkedIn page. The question was: “Should you advocate for social justice on your business social media accounts?” The results: 78% said yes, and 22% said “social advocacy IS my business,” so that’s also a yes. Nobody said no.
We have a feeling, though, that there are still some people out there who are hesitant to deal with social justice issues. I mean, it’s frightening. What if you step into a controversial topic and then alienate a portion of your customer base? What if you say the wrong thing and offend the very people you’re trying to support? Like, what if you forget to capitalize the word Black (we literally had that discussion here at Social for Good)? Or maybe you just don’t feel like you have the time to address the world’s problems when you can barely keep your business afloat.
All valid points. But as the poll suggests, many of us feel that using our brand to advocate for social justice is a good idea. We just might not have a clear understanding of why. So we decided to lay out several benefits, plus a few tips.
Five benefits of using your brand to advocate for social justice
1. Feel good knowing that you’re doing the right thing.
To quote Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” You’ll be using your privilege to help others who are not so privileged. That’s hero material right there. Knowing that you were on the right side of history is really a primary benefit.
2. Maintain your customer base.
Customers might be thinking that your silence on an important matter indicates compliance with the status quo.
Entrepreneur.com puts it like this, “Whatever they do, companies must never underestimate their responsibility, as perceived by employees and the public, to affect change in the world around them. Globally, the majority of citizens (60%) say businesses have a critical role to play in overcoming societal challenges.”
Not only do consumers want you to play an active role in overcoming global issues, but they also want you to speak about them. In 2018, 62% of consumers wanted companies to take a stand on social justice issues. That number has significantly increased to 72% in 2022. Based on the data, here’s a good rule of thumb. When in doubt — speak out.
So basically, if you’re not doing some good somewhere and communicating about it… you’re behind the competition.
Safe is the new risky.-stole that from a conference we went to recently, but who said it??? Not sure.
3. Build customer loyalty.
Social justice issues strike a chord emotionally with many individuals. And if they sense that you share a concern for the same issues, you can gain their trust (as long as your concern is genuine).
Moreover, when a customer feels that their values align with yours, they may even begin to advocate for your brand on social media. This kind of consumer to consumer interaction is like gold; a personal referral will always be more effective than the best marketing tools.
4. Win new customers.
You could broaden your customer base by advocating for the causes near to their hearts. One study showed that fully 90% of millennials would take the effort to switch brands on the basis of an issue they care about. Many would even be willing to pay more for a product because they know they are also supporting the cause.
5. Retain and engage employees.
The majority of employees globally report a desire for their CEOs to make their views about controversial political and social issues known. If the message resonates, their satisfaction improves, and they are more likely to go above and beyond. This creates the type of culture that sets you apart from the competition.
With the Great Migration still in full swing, you cannot underestimate the value of retaining employees. It can cost 1/2 to 2x their salary to replace them!
So now that we know why it pays to take a stand, let’s discuss practical next steps.
Four steps to using your brand to advocate for social justice
1. Know thy customers and employees.
Start by checking in with key stakeholders (customers/employees) to understand which issues are important to them. You may perform a survey or gather focus groups.
2. Select one or two issues to champion.
Some issues will be a natural fit for your brand because they are relevant to your business. For example, apparel companies may find the fair treatment of factory workers to be a logical issue to champion. Gillette (the men’s company) focuses on male-related issues. Since we are a woman-owned business, we advocate for women and girls around the world.
Another option is to select an issue that you connect to personally. For example, raising autism awareness because you have a child with autism. If you’re willing to be vulnerable and share your story, you help employees and customers better engage with your cause. This also helps them to trust that you are authentic.
3. Make a change.
Focus your attention on making a meaningful impact on the issue(s) of choice. If customers or employees sense that your ‘social justice’ message is just a marketing ploy, they are likely to actually respond negatively to your brand, according to Gartner. Here are some examples on ways to really make a difference for your cause:
- Partner with an organization that is already making a social impact.
- Develop pro bono programs to benefit those affected by the issue.
- Make structural changes in your organization to address systemic issues. For example, audit the entire supply chain to make sure that your products are sustainable and fair trade. Or change human resources policies to encourage more diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Donate a portion of your profits to your cause of choice.
If you’re short of ideas, I’m sure your employee base will be happy to brainstorm. Of course, this will take time and money. But as Duke Detain from Lego City says, “the easy way is rarely the best way” (can you tell we have small children?🤣). On the flip side, if you make no changes, you risk becoming obsolete.
4. Post about the issue on social and online.
After completing the prior steps, your communications will be genuine. Plan to share your stance on the issue — what the problem is and what you’re doing about it. Along the way, be sure to:
- Know the lingo. If you’re going to speak to an issue, take the time to ensure that your message doesn’t come out offensive. For example, speak to your employees or VIP customers to understand the key terms and ideas before you blitz the world with your message.
- Listen to feedback! If you say it wrong the first time, apologize and get it right the next time (we have some tips on how to apologize well).
Here is an example of how we have written about social justice on our website: Social For Good Co. statement about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Bottom Line
Championing a social justice issue is good for your brand. It can allow you to maintain your customer base, build customer advocates, win new loyal customers, and engage your employees! That’s a lot of upside. Caring + Sharing = Growth. Now go forth and change the world!