Social justice movements, a global pandemic, climate change and other environmental disasters. Look no further than the news cycle to understand why consumers are becoming more careful about the businesses they support, the products they use and their impact on the planet.

Waves of corporations have responded by making pledges to uphold eco-friendly, socially responsible, antiracist business practices. Brands have made headlines for their gestures of goodwill—like when Calm paid Naomi Osaka’s fines for skipping press meetings to protect her own mental health and Airbnb introduced temporary housing plans for Afghan refugees.

Despite more frequent business pledges, consumers remain skeptical–52% believe brands that take stances on societal issues are just trying to drive sales.

We need some skepticism to keep businesses accountable, transparent and authentic. But businesses also need to continue showcasing progress, putting their values to work and being the change consumers want to see in the world.

As your brand embraces corporate responsibility, here’s what marketers need to know about building trust with conscious consumers.

1. Consistency and transparency are a must

There’s nothing wrong with building buzz around your business initiatives and achievements for the greater good. In fact, 50% of consumers want businesses to use social to share details about their social justice commitments and provide proactive updates on their progress. The keys to building trust in your communication are consistency and transparency. UK charity and second-hand clothes shop, Oxfam has long been a proponent of sustainable fashion. Rather than jump on a bandwagon, they are highlighting their clothing as a way for customers to embrace more sustainable options.

Posting a Tweet that gives a vague indication that your company is committed to “doing the work” isn’t going to cut it. Consumers are quick to see right through hollow brand activism.

Patagonia is revered as one of the best companies that mixes business with activism and it’s easy to see why by looking at their social feeds. On Twitter, the brand shares content related to their values and commitments to causes nearly every day. In addition to sharing their own messages of activism, the brand consistently Retweets messages from activists, nonprofits, news sources and other brands with mutual values.

Patagonia’s transparency on social crystalizes where they stand on issues that their company and consumers care about. And the proof that consumers trust the brand is on social.

 2. Responsive brands breed trust

Thanks to social media and the internet, consumers are empowered to do their own research to verify that companies aren’t just talking the talk.

Seventy-eight percent of consumers agree that social media is the fastest and most direct way to connect with a brand. Additionally, responsive brands that offer strong customer service and engage their audiences are the brands consumers say are best in class on social.

That puts a lot of the burden on your brand’s social marketers to be on the front lines, answering questions about your business, products and purpose. Add that to growing the list of reasons social media marketers can’t operate in a silo.

Social media managers, influencers, creators and partners need to be empowered with the information necessary to accurately represent your brand, products and services. For instance, if your brand sells eco-friendly, vegan, cruelty-free products, you’ll inevitably get questions, especially as consumers grow skeptical of greenwashing. Brief social marketers on your brand’s product development practices, give them publicly available resources they can share with consumers and have a process for escalating messages to your company’s subject matter experts.

3. Employees’ and leaders’ voices matters

 It’s not only conscious consumers that expect businesses to act on societal, environmental or political issues—nearly 8 in 10 employees expect the same of their employers.

With a mutual interest in holding businesses accountable, consumers trust employees as a source of information about the companies they work for. Brands need employees’ help reinforcing their values, initiatives and goals on social. When employers follow through on commitments, and proud employees share the achievement with their own social networks, your brand’s credibility and overall perception are likely to move in a positive direction.

Screenshot of LinkedIn post by Cassandra Blackburn, Sprout Social's Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. "As a means to driving equity across our communities and breaking down the barriers that have existed for too long, I am thrilled to share that Sprout Social, Inc., Inc. has contributed $100,000USD to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) for the establishment of the Sprout Social Scholarship Fund. Through this Fund, we are awarding eight merit-based scholarships to Black/African American college seniors who exemplify strong leadership abilities and demonstrate interest in computer science or software engineering."

Businesses should also focus on leveling up your executive team’s social mastery. As pressure for executives to speak out and make their stances clear mounts, leaders need their social marketers for support. Not only do social marketers know your audience inside and out, they can help executives shape their presence, engage in dialogue and define their voice for social—which may be distinct from the “brand voice.”

For business leaders looking for inspiring examples, Alexis Ohanian, Seven Seven Six Founder and Former Executive Chair of Reddit, is a must-follow on social. He consistently uses his platforms to express his personal values, champion purpose-driven businesses and share updates about causes he supports.

4. Listen first and learn from conversations on social

Social isn’t only a microphone for sharing your brand’s corporate responsibility efforts, it’s a window into your audience’s reaction and a compass for where you should focus next. With social listening and community engagement, businesses can evaluate voice of the customer (VoC) data to gauge present-state perception and answer questions like:=

  • How was your last corporate responsibility-related announcement perceived? What insights can you take away from both the negative and positive reactions?
  • What concerns and societal issues are most present in conversations about your brand?
  • Are there any existing initiatives, pledges or company claims that people are skeptical about?
  • What FAQs does your brand receive regarding your company’s stance on certain issues?
  • In addition to staying informed about the social climate on a national or global scale, what laws, movements and social causes are top of mind in your local community? What differences can your business make in your backyard?

The answers may ultimately influence more product research and development, workers’ rights efforts, supply chain considerations, DEI commitments and the strategic direction of your business.

Meeting customers in the moment is important, but businesses also need to understand what consumers will care about in five, 10 and even 20 years. Social media channels are steeped in conversations and content that act as a weathervane for consumer interests and values. 

Don’t forget that small gestures can make a big impact

 Grand gestures and pledges to create a better world may end up in headlines, but brands shouldn’t forget about small acts that reinforce your values among your customers and partners.

Make brand authenticity and genuine community connection core qualities of your social strategy. Read this article (free worksheet included) to get started.