social media, likes, neon sign, brand authenticity

Article provided by Jamie Gilpin, CMO, Sprout Social

This year has brought on many challenges, one of them being that we saw a year’s worth of digital transformation in just a matter of weeks.

As businesses were forced to shut their doors across the globe, social media quickly became the sole connection point between many brands and their consumers, accelerating a change in dynamic that has been building over recent years.

We have relied on social media more than ever before to help us through a global pandemic, navigate deep cultural movements and stay connected to the world. And this increased reliance on social has reinforced that consumers are in the driver’s seat in navigating their relationships with brands.

Social gives us the ability to directly contact brands and publicly reject statements that do not feel genuine, which has driven brands to become less self-serving and look at how to drive real change. Our current conditions have also driven consumers to increasingly activate brands to take action and make a positive impact on the world around us.

Following in the footsteps of companies like Nike and Patagonia, the list of brands taking social and political stands has grown to span every industry. Not only are companies increasingly speaking out, but the tech sector’s focus on social good is rapidly growing. As of last year, the UK’s “Tech for social good” market is worth £2.3 billion, directly tackling challenges in healthcare, education, finance and sustainability.

Even if your core product isn’t directly addressing a socio-economic issue, recent Sprout Social research shows 70 per cent of consumers believe it’s important that brands take a stand on social and political issues. And when brands take a stand consumers align with, 36 per cent say they’ll purchase more from that company. This will only continue to grow in an environment where consumer trust is low and social causes are at the forefront of every conversation. But authenticity is equally important in this environment and without it, a brand’s social impact efforts can fall flat.

Focus on impact

Beyond the transactional relationship, brands who take a stand are able to shape larger conversations beyond their own businesses. Now more than ever, brands are placed in the spotlight to highlight important issues and even educate their audiences on how they themselves can be part of driving change. In fact, of the consumers who want brands to take a stand, 66 per cent say they believe brands can create real change when they voice their beliefs, while 62 per cent believe brands are successfully educating consumers on important topics. This is especially relevant given the rise of social activism and the role it’s playing in changing the course of history across the globe.

Part of building an authentic stance is recognising that you don’t have to weigh in on every public issue, just the ones that matter most to your company, your employees and the people you serve. Our research found that 29 per cent of people say a stand is believable when brands focus on issues that directly affect their employees. However, the stakes have changed when it comes to major social issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement or the rise in racial injustice, and not responding at all could be a big indicator of who you are as a company and what your values are.

Commit to core values

Indeed, there’s a time and place for everything. Asked when it is appropriate for brands to take a stand on social media, 43 per cent of people say brands should speak out when an issue directly impacts their business. On the other hand, 23 per cent of consumers say it’s never appropriate for brands to take a stand on social media. So, how should brands be responding to issues their audience cares about?

When weighing in on an issue, your response should be clear and direct, and should include specific commitments and contributions your company will be making. Be sure to share why taking a stand is important to you and outline how you will be supporting the cause.

Prioritise transparency

Brands who take a stand must remember the role transparency plays in building authentic connections with their audiences. Being transparent not only leads to increased trust and loyalty, but also empathy in return from consumers. When brands have a history of being transparent, 85 per cent of consumers are more likely to stick by them during a brand crisis. But in order to meet increasingly demanding consumer expectations, brands must first put in the investment to understand what transparency means to their audiences to ensure their response is relevant and genuine.

This new dynamic is certainly putting pressure on brands. Not long ago, companies could focus solely on the advantages of their product to build consumer following. But as purpose becomes a differentiating factor that directly impacts consumer loyalty, tech companies must look beyond their products and examine what their brand impact is in order to truly build authentic connections and help consumers navigate this uncertain world.


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