A Guide to Socially Conscious Posts (And Their Consequences) What do you want your brand to stand for, and how should you sculpt your messaging in today's highly contentious culture?

By Emily Reynolds Bergh

Key Takeaways

  • Businesses are increasingly grappling with the quandary of social media posts on issues of sociopolitical relevance.
  • A brand can be significantly impacted by what its spokespeople choose to say or not say in a public forum.
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Over the last 15 years or so that I've been running my PR business, a lot has changed in the U.S. political and socioeconomic landscape. But what hasn't changed and likely never will is the power of the almighty dollar. The transformation that is currently underway, however, particularly among the younger generations, is how we're going about chasing that dollar.

The quality of a product or service still counts. Effectiveness and affordability still count. But the newest variables that have been added to the equation predicting where consumers will spend their money are the beliefs that underlie a company's mission, the ethics that inform its practices, and the footprint it's making on the planet (both ecologically and politically). We're seeing the effects of these remarkably influential factors across virtually all industries, in small ways (like the vernacular shift to "vegan leather") and large ways (like the ESG scores various agencies are assigning to corporations that hugely affect their investability).

We're a dollar-driven economy, it's true. But based on what I'm seeing in the marketplace concerning my clients, we're becoming, more and more, a values-driven society. What does that mean for small businesses, and what are the repercussions of this evolving mindset on consumerism?

Related: How Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing the World

Social media as the new world stage

In this day of blogs, blogs everywhere, much has already been written on this topic. I'm neither an economist nor an ethics professor, so all I can add to the discourse is my perspective as a public relations expert immersed daily in social media.

It's there that all the world's stories are being told and all the central players are creating their own narratives, so it's there that companies and organizations of all types and sizes have been opting to speak up or, in some cases, stay silent on issues of societal importance.

Whether or not to post on such issues has become the prime question for businesses. My answer? Every business has to decide what part it wants to play in the unfolding drama around us and what voice it wants (or doesn't want) to add to the dialogue.

Related: Should Your Brand Embrace Social Issues?

Guidance on brand voice and stance

I was recently asked for my advice on a dilemma a company in the beauty space was facing. They were experiencing a totally unanticipated backlash after posting what they thought was a brief, commonsensical, utterly unobjectionable statement supporting a cease-fire in Gaza.

When numerous disgruntled customers started commenting within moments — some pledging to boycott them forever, some explaining why they now had to give up their favorite moisturizer reluctantly — they asked me what they should do. Never post a socially conscious message again? Issue an apology? Stick to their guns with a follow-up post? Here's what I told them.

Do your homework. The general directive out there these days is for brands to "get personal" with their client base. So their posts aim to foster connection with increasingly subjective messaging, which can have both positive and negative outcomes. Consumer Goods Technology reported in 2022 that a whopping 82% of shoppers want a brand's values to align with their own. If they don't, most will abandon the brand, and 15% will make their thoughts known on social media.

Your current and potential customers are educating themselves on locating companies aligned with their ideals (through resources such as World Changer), so you should stay informed, too. What are your closest competitors posting? What share of your market prioritizes values over products or price? Does your client base want facts-based or feelings-based social content from you? If you don't know, find out.

Know your audience. The way to find out is to know your target market. You can better hit the mark with your social content when you have a solid understanding of their preferences and a good grasp of their ideological underpinnings. This doesn't mean you should compromise your belief system and pander to your market just for capital gain, but it does mean that if you have a captive audience, you'd be wise to speak to them in ways and on topics that matter to them.

Determine what's most important to you. We each get to decide what's most critical to the future of our business. When you settle on your driving force, you can adhere to the map that will get you to your intended destination. If profitability is the topmost objective of your business plan, there's no shame in that. If sustainability is what revs your engine, that's great, too. It's your business. Write out your chief aims, rank them in order, then pursue them in that order.

Weigh your options. No matter your post, it won't align with everyone's principles. So posting is a matter of calculated risk, not across-the-board acceptance. On the one hand, you need to be prepared to lose some customers. If you can't afford to alienate even a fraction, think long and hard about posting anything remotely antagonizing. On the other hand, by appealing to your base's sentiments, you exponentially increase your chances of retaining their long-term loyalty even as you simultaneously attract new clients who agree with your position and admire your courage to declare it.

Hire a professional to craft your posts. Because socially conscious posts are so fraught with potentially hazardous consequences, I'd strongly advise hiring an experienced social media marketer to compose your content. PR teams specialize in reputation management and know how to field good and bad feedback. Brand neutrality, I'd say, is quickly becoming obsolete. So if you're going to post, having an expert draft your content is a reliable means to establish your brand's core values in the marketplace and, when necessary, reestablish them when your reputation takes a hit.

Related: Businesses Must Make a Stand on Important Social Issues

A final word: Stand firm and stay true

I personally admire companies that choose to speak out. And because my success in my industry owes more to my heart than my head, I endorse being vulnerable and transparent with followers. People can sense authenticity, and they can sniff out self-serving fawning.

So if you have something to say and you're clear on wanting to say it, just choose your stance and then stick with it. If you deviate from it under public pressure, you must not have been that committed to it in the first place. And if it's significant enough to what you and your team are creating, then it's more of a necessity and less of a choice to speak up.

But it's important to remember that people mess up; they always have and always will make mistakes. Our foibles just weren't so publicly and immediately aired before the digital revolution. So if you misstep, know that that's to be expected — and that you can course-correct in the future.

None of us will earn an A+ from every consumer we're trying to reach — a 100% approval rating just isn't realistic. Knowing that you're going to displease a certain sector no matter what you say, isn't it worth speaking your truth? If it matters enough to you and your brand, yes, it's worth it!

Emily Reynolds Bergh

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder at R Public Relations Firm

Emily Reynolds Bergh — vintage-shoe hoarder, cycling junkie, & lover of pink drinks — is a marketing & PR pro with 15+ years of experience under her belt. Now the founder & owner of the award-winning R Public Relations based in New York, she’s been featured in numerous publications & podcasts.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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