President Trump cut chunks out of two national monuments in Utah. The CEO of outdoor clothing supplier Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, hit back by pasting the slogan “Who stole your land?” across the firm’s website. He also says he’s going to sue. Chouinard is just one of a slew of CEOs taking to social media to debate social issues.
But when should business leaders get involved, and when should they leave well alone? Writing for Strategy+Business, Eric J McNulty explains how to cultivate the art of corporate conversation.
It used to be that the only audiences of importance to corporations were boards of directors, shareholders and business analysts. But there’s a growing expectation that companies looking for customer loyalty must offer more than products and services – if you’re asking people to love your brand, you need to get them to buy into your firm’s values.
What you say matters. Research confirms that the upcoming generation of consumers expects business leaders to speak out – but the data also shows that what CEOs say can sway purchasing decisions. About half of millennials say they would be more likely to favour a brand that echoes their beliefs, but they also say they’d be just as likely to boycott a brand whose utterances clash with their values.
GET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER
The firm that doesn’t live up to the values it espouses will find itself sleepwalking into a Twitter storm when its shortcomings are exposed. Have a top-to-bottom look at the way your firm engages with issues like race and gender equality, and LGBTQ rights.
Go further. Initiate an ongoing conversation with the people upon whom your firm depends – your employees and customers: “It’s about cultivating a relationship, not simply crafting a narrative.” Find out what it is you do that really matters to people – those are the issues worth engaging on.
Keep your comments relevant. Aim your conversations at the “intersection between the issue, the business, and stakeholders”. If you’re a transportation company, for example, you use fuel and so you’d be expected to have an opinion on climate change.
Interacting with customers and the public around matters like sustainability, efficiency savings, renewables and more would help your firm to engage with its core audiences, reassuring them that you’re taking the things that matter most to them seriously. But you don’t need to tweet about police violence because you’ll lack credibility – the subject falls outside your firm’s area of operation and expertise.
Above all, be respectful of your customers – remember that you only control your half of the conversation. Keep your ears open. Listen before you speak.