The increasing expectations of customers, employees, and investors from corporates to take stands on social and political issues, requires communications leaders to navigate when and how to engage.

A company’s stance on a political, social, or religious issue can change the way customers interact with it. Companies increasingly need to take a public stand on polarizing issues. However, it is crucial to understand a good time and place to weigh in and identify the issues that the organization must make statements about.

According to Gartner’s survey of 30,000 customers, employees, investors, and community members around the world, perception, and behavior are impacted as per the organization’s involvement in societal issues, both in good and bad ways. If companies use the right issues, it provides them with an opportunity to create a clear differentiation on their brand image. Over 70% of employees agree that companies must work to address society’s challenges.

Since customers, employees and the general population have high expectations for companies to participate in societal issues, it makes sense for communications leaders to be seen involved in these decisions more often.

According to the survey, 90% of participants do not recall actions and the statements from a CEO or a company on a political or a social issue. Only if the companies use the right issues, they can differentiate and stand out.

Unlike crisis management, communications leaders have a choice as to how and when to get involved in social issues. It is essential for the leaders to aim at generating a positive response. This can help determine when to engage in societal issue while minimizing the number of negative reactions. Organizations must use their identity as the litmus test to engage in contentious issues. Company mission statement, identity, purpose, brand, culture, history, and values can help leaders rationalize the company’s perspective, both internally and in public.

Gartner research reveals that words are as strong as actions and deliver the same positive response rate. Communications teams can drive supportive audience behaviors by engaging in societal issues and generate positive responses regardless of the involvement of the CEO. When constructing messages, the characteristics that hold the most significant impact on audience responses include consistency with company values, authenticity, and compatibility with business goals.

Over 70% of customers developed a better opinion about the company when they heard a company take action or speak out on a social issue. The Gartner research, ‘Navigating New Stakeholder Expectations,’ also suggests that 3 out of 4 times, stakeholders respond to a company taking a stance in a positive manner.