It seems like the number of controversial social issues increases every year. 2023 was a big year for controversies, whether cultural or political, and 2024 will likely be just as tumultuous, if not more so.

But whether the actual number of controversies has increased or not, one thing is certain: more than ever before, companies and their executive spokespeople are expected to take stances. This has been driven by the constant churn of social media, with every new story or cause resulting in a demand for a corporate position. Whether your company takes a stance or not – and what that stance should be – will be determined by two core questions.

What Will Our Customers Think?

Before having leaders comment on social media or to the press, executive communications professionals should think about your core customers. Do your customers lean one way or the other on social issues? Or, as is often the case, are your customers likely to be divided, undecided or apathetic? These, too, are important guiding questions to be factored into your executives’ response.

If your customers are likely to take a particular side in a controversy, it may help to burnish your brand image by leaning into a strong message of support or opposition on the issue at hand. It can bind your customers more to you as an exemplification of their lifestyle or ideals, something that’s increasingly important and possible with more niche products and services.

If you have customers on either side of the issue, however, it will typically pay to not issue a public statement or have your executives proactively discuss the issue. The new normal is that executives will often still be questioned about their stance, however. Not taking an immediate, strongly worded position doesn’t mean you don’t have to still whirl into action, drafting statements and talking points for if/when your spokespeople are called to account. This is where executive communications expertise is essential, calling for message discipline across your organization and C-suite, and to make sure communication is both neutral and empathetic.

What Will Current and Potential Employees Think?

Organizations are used to worrying about customer and investor sensibilities, but an emerging area of concern is the opinions of current and future employees. Indeed, much executive communication these days is geared toward internal staff and attracting new talent. Younger employees with in-demand skills are often prioritizing company culture over more traditional considerations like higher pay and benefits, and whether a company takes a stance on a hot-button issue – and what that stance is – can help or damage employee morale and the company’s employer brand.

As we head into 2024, a year certain to produce its share of controversial issues, it’s important to have an executive communications framework in mind for navigating a changing – and sometimes perilous – world. By asking these two crucial questions whenever the latest controversy starts trending, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

The most successful companies are strategic with the way they communicate. In fact, a corporate communications plan is crucial to build a stronger brand – for you or your company. Whether it’s a corporate communications plan, conference, or speaking opportunity, brainstorm with our team to learn more about how to shape your voice.

Social Issues And Executive Communications: When And How To Respond was last modified: January 29th, 2024 by Brian Sherry