• Caroline Ridgway

The Merits of Going Social/Political with your Corporate Communications

It’s an open question whether businesses should take social and political stands in their messaging. Largely, whether you think it’s a good idea may be circumstantially related to whether you agree with the message being offered. In general, I think it’s good to steer clear of hot-button topics. My preference, at least under ordinary conditions, is for businesses to focus, as it relates to their day-to-day communications, on their customers and their services. That equation potentially shifts, however, when it comes to matters of significant importance, and when there’s something the whole world is talking about. In those contexts, silence can be perceived as lack of awareness or connection.

As a consumer, I have at times responded positively when companies small or large have taken publicly proactive stances on issues that matter to me. Personally, I like to allocate my spending to businesses that prioritize climate consciousness, social justice, and women’s rights. Those are my values, and it’s my decision to act or not in that direction.

Where I think it works less well is if you have a business that’s entirely outside the spectrum of politics but is routinely promoting a cause or person. I bristle at businesses that put up political signs during election season (which is now pretty much always?). Business-owners using their company’s social media platforms to advance personal agendas are off-putting to me. At the least, if you’re going down that rhetorical path, be prepared to back up your opinions with data, and try to refrain from getting into adversarial back-and-forths with commenters. Let’s be clear about one thing, above all else: Verbally assaulting and denigrating whole groups of people should be off limits.

What about now, though? As I write this, cities across the United States and even internationally are witnessing large-scale demonstrations, with the proximate cause being the death not quite a week ago of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But, of course, the more systemic reasons being decades, or (more realistically) centuries, of frustration, injury, financial misappropriation, marginalization, disrespect, fear, and so much more.

Previously, I haven’t said anything. But now I feel like that’s wrong. My aim is to communicate respectfully. I acknowledge my privilege and see the pain and hurt and suffering. Maybe some of you will read this and make a determination, as a result, not to work with me. Maybe some of you will reach the opposite conclusion. Peace-making can’t start with failing to openly acknowledge what divides us.

The takeaway really is to remember that words matter. How you choose to convey something is as (or more) important as deciding to do so in the first place. It’s so easy to hide behind technology and say things that we wouldn’t dream of face-to-face. No one reacts in a vacuum. We all bring our life’s experiences to every new interpersonal transaction. Keeping your communication high-level, courteous, and personal will help ensure your audience understands your purpose, and responds with equal sensitivity. Not everything is for everyone. Some will opt out. That’s ok. Deciding to operate as a values-based and -driven business means a different level of commitment. Ultimately one that can pay dividends, when done thoughtfully.

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