Companies should stay away from politics because it’s none of their business. Whether or not companies should get involved in social issues is a complex question with no easy answer. While corporations have a responsibility to act in the best interests of their shareholders, they simultaneously ought to consider the societal context in which they operate. A company that does not consider these challenges inevitably risks long-term reputational damage.
Companies are not individuals; companies sell to individuals. But more and more, companies promote their expressions and beliefs and condemn any who disagree. Political correctness has seeped into daily life. So many companies feel pressure to align themselves with a political agenda and to be politically correct. They claim it’s impossible to remain neutral.
Bud Light’s sponsorship with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney sparked a call for a boycott of the brand. LGBT merchandise at Target has sparked a similar boycott and an unsafe environment for employees at the store.
Corporations operate to produce a profit. Social-activism initiatives, by contrast, swim against the current of public opinion to fight for gains for marginalized groups. When corporations engage in social activism, they must decide if they are willing to give more to the world than they take away––in this case, raise awareness for the LGBT community at the cost of profit.
Here are some of the pros and cons of companies getting involved in social issues:
- Increased brand awareness and customer loyalty. Studies have shown that consumers are likelier to do business with companies that share their values. For example, a study by Cone Communications found that 87% of consumers are willing to switch brands to one that supports a cause they care about.
- Improved employee morale and productivity. Employees are more likely to be engaged and productive when they feel their work is making a difference. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that companies with a solid social mission have 25% higher employee engagement than those without.
- Increased innovation and creativity. When companies are focused on solving social problems, they are more likely to come up with innovative solutions. This can lead to new products, services, and ways of doing business.
- Potential for backlash. When companies take a stand on social issues, they risk alienating some customers or employees. For example, Nike faced backlash when it endorsed Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.
- Increased costs. Getting involved in social issues can be expensive. Companies may need to invest in new programs, initiatives, or research.
- Lack of expertise. Companies may not have the expertise or resources to effectively address social problems. This can lead to poorly-conceived programs that do more harm than good.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to get involved in social issues is a decision that each company must make for itself. There is no right or wrong answer, and the best decision will vary depending on the specific circumstances of each company.
Here are some tips for companies that are considering getting involved in social issues:
- Do your research. Before you take a stand on a social issue, it’s important to do your research and understand the issue fully. This will help you avoid making any missteps that could damage your brand or alienate your customers.
- Be authentic. Don’t get involved in social issues just because you think it will make you look good. Be genuine and authentic in your efforts, and make sure that your actions align with your values.
- Be transparent. Be open and transparent with your customers and employees about your involvement in social issues. This will help build trust and credibility.
- Be accountable. Set clear goals and metrics for your social impact initiatives, and track your progress over time. This will help you ensure that your efforts are making a difference.