Brands everywhere are feeling the pressure to take stands on sensitive topics. Social media has made consumers more aware of current events than ever and they’re expecting the brands they love to speak out.

According to the 2023 Sprout Social Index™ , 25% of customers say the most memorable thing a brand can do is speak out about causes and news that align with their values. But the topics are just that—sensitive. How can brands provide content experiences that audiences want while still staying true to their values? As brands report speaking on serious global issues like racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality or public health, they’re facing new challenges of authenticity.

What is brand activism?

It’s easy to conflate brand activism with social media activism. We see it all the time. But social media activism is broad and often led by individuals or communities. Brand activism goes deeper and specifically impacts your business. Social media activism is a key component of brand activism, but it can’t be the only component. As a business leader, you have the opportunity to create real change around these issues and you shouldn’t squander it. Brand activism is a holistic approach to improving the world through your business practices and your marketing.

Brand activism can have lasting effects across your business.

From a marketing perspective, well-executed brand activism can increase your awareness—and ultimately market share—among key audiences. Supporting the causes that matter to your existing customers can inspire brand loyalty and engagement. And internally, showing your employees that you care can keep them engaged.

For example, Patagonia has integrated their environmental-centric mission into every aspect of their business, and their customers appreciate it, landing the company a top spot in brand reputation rankings.

Change starts from within

Brands shouldn’t talk if they’re not willing to walk. Brand activism is more than a logo change during Pride month, it needs to be embedded in the way you conduct business.

If you’re not willing to build your hiring, sourcing, manufacturing and sales practices to support what your brand is saying publicly, you probably shouldn’t be saying it. There are three areas you should focus on as you launch or define your brand activism.

1. Your business

Before you can change the world, you need to change what you can—your business.

If you’re an athleisure brand looking to promote body positivity, you should check your size inclusivity before you post that Tweet. If you want to speak out on gender disparities in tech, check your own demographic breakdowns and internal hiring processes before you create an infographic. These changes don’t only support your eventual brand purpose roll-out, they also send a clear message that you’re in it for real.

2. Your people

Your employees experience your brand in a much more intimate way than your consumers do. And the chances are high that they’re also active on social. If they see you expressing beliefs that don’t align with their experience, they’ll probably speak out about it.

Employee engagement is crucial for achieving your business goals and just like consumers, employees don’t want to engage with companies that don’t feel genuine. Checking in with your employees can be an excellent way to gauge whether it’s time to go public with a purpose-driven campaign. Your employees can be a valuable sounding board to help you decide what issues to focus on. Find a cause that affects your employees directly and ask them what would help. Their input could make all the difference.

3. Your leadership

If senior leadership doesn’t buy in, an initiative probably isn’t going to go very far. Your executive team needs to be more than along for the activism ride—they have to steer the ship.

This might seem like common sense, but two-thirds of marketers (66%) report having to convince senior leadership of the importance of taking a stand. Getting leadership approval and their commitment to continued engagement is key to making sure you’re working on a movement and not a moment. Having your executives speak out externally, like Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd, can go a long way in showing your commitment is real.

Staking your claim

When it’s time to shine a spotlight on brand activism, it can be hard to know where to start. With a near-constant stream of news stories vying for attention, choosing the ones that fit your brand can feel impossible. There are a few techniques you can use to figure out how to focus your voice.

Capture data behind the dialogue

Social media teams already keep a close watch on which topics your audiences care about. Surfacing those trends and bringing them up to leadership can be an excellent way to start.

If you’re not already, tap into social listening tools to uncover the stories that resonate with your customers—and are relevant to your business. This kind of data will not only tell you what current events matter to your audiences, but their distinct opinions on them as well. The unfiltered feedback from social media can show you the gaps your business might have and maybe even suggest solutions.

Put your personality out there

More and more brands are taking up a lighter tone on social media, which can be difficult when it’s time to address things that aren’t so light. You don’t want to come across as cavalier about something your company has put serious effort into. But abandoning your voice entirely when you take a stand is a mistake as well. Take time crafting your messages so they sound like you while getting the point across.

Mobilize your employees

Brand activism is a team sport. Giving your employees the opportunity to engage with your activism efforts increases their buy-in and embeds the cause further into your internal culture. Implementing an employee advocacy program provides an opportunity to amplify your message to a wider audience, while giving your employees room to express themselves.

Building lasting change

As the world gets more complicated, businesses no longer have the luxury of staying silent. And they shouldn’t want to. With a robust brand activism strategy, you can engage deeper with your audience and create a value system they identify with.

Looking for more insights into what consumers expect from brands on social? Check out the full 2022 Sprout Social Index™ for an in-depth look.