When it comes to sensitive social and political issues, silence is not always golden.
From civil rights to race relations to immigration, consumers increasingly expect brands to speak up, new research suggests.
In fact, two thirds of consumers now feel it is important for brands to use their influence to help shape social and political discussions, according to a survey of 1,000 consumers from Sprout Social.
A majority of respondents (58%) say they are most receptive to this type of discussion on social media, the social management and analytics firm found.
“People want to feel socially and politically connected to the brands they support,” Andrew Caravella, vice president of strategy and brand engagement at Sprout, notes in the new report.
As with most matters, liberals and conservatives differ on their social and political expectations of brands.
A clear majority (78%) of respondents who self-identified as liberal said they want brands to take such stands, while only about half (52%) of respondents who self-identified as conservative felt the same.
Perhaps that’s because 82% of liberals said they feel brands are credible when taking social and political stands, while just 46% of conservatives agree with that thesis.
Overall, consumers’ emotional reactions to brands wading into choppy cultural waters via social channels are more likely to be positive than negative. Illustrating that point, Sprout found that words most commonly associated with brands getting woke include “intrigued,” “impressed” and “engaged.”
Of note, people also think opinions coming from socially conscious brands are often worth praising and spreading. When their personal beliefs align with what brands say, 28% of consumers say they publicly applaud that brand.
By contrast, just 20% of consumers say they publicly criticize brands for broadcasting opinions that conflict with their own.
“While vocalizing opinions may drive away some customers, it will ultimately engender greater loyalty and enthusiasm from people who agree,” according to Caravella.
On Facebook and other social channels, respondents say brands can make the biggest impact by announcing donations to specific causes, and encouraging followers to take specific steps to support causes.
But if you’re a brand hoping to actually influence the cultural dialogue, you might want to ease your ambitions. As Sprout found, 66% of consumers say posts from brands rarely or never influence their opinions on social or political issues.