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Consumers respond favorably to businesses that are not only driven by growth but also focus on impacting societal issues in a positive manner. And while 7 in 10 of the more than 1,500 consumers surveyed for a report from Sprout Social say they think it’s important for brands to take a stand on social issues, do they really trust the motives of brands that do?

The survey found that despite consumers wanting brands to take a stand, about two-fifths (39%) feel that brands are not credible when they do. Skepticism has increased since 2017, more than doubling from the 18% of consumers who then questioned the credibility of brands who supported a cause.

This skepticism is reflected in consumers’ perception of why brands take a stand. More than half (53%) of respondents feel that brands do so for PR or marketing purposes, while another 35% say it’s because the brand is jumping on the bandwagon.

Fewer consumers feel that brands take a stand for more philanthropic reasons such as it being the right thing to do (34%), brand leadership supporting an issue (27%), being a positive force for change (26%), customers supporting an issue (23%), as an obligation to society (14%) or in response to employee activism (13%).

What Gives a Brand’s Stance Credibility?

Customers are more likely to think a brand’s stance is credible if it has an impact on the brand’s customers (37%) or if it impacts the brand’s business operations (36%). Three in 10 (29%) respondents also say that a brand’s stance on issues is credible if it impacts their employees. This is confirmed by past research that found that US consumers felt that CEOs should express their opinion about business-related issues like equal pay and health coverage and avoid issues such as gun control or refugees.

Other factors that add credibility to a brand’s stance on issues are a history of financial support (26%), a history of speaking out on issues (24%), leadership supporting the issue (24%) or geographic proximity to the issue (20%).

Being Vocal on Social Media

In a study by G&S Business Communications, one-third (33%) of consumers said they learned about a business’ efforts to promote sustainability on social media. Another study found that consumers feel connected to brands that use social media to discuss initiatives involving social good.

Sprout Social’s survey found that the best way for brands to take a stance using social media is to collaborate with relevant nonprofits that are involved in the issue (40%) or to create ads about their stance (38%). Others felt that brands should post content about their stance (34%) and, in keeping with consumers’ desire for brands to be responsive on social media, respondents think brands should respond when customers ask about issues (34%).

Are Brands Effective at Driving Change?

Two in 5 (41%) respondents say their opinion on public issues are influenced by what brands post on social media. So, how effective do consumers think brands are in driving social change?

Quite a lot, it appears. More than two-thirds (67%) of consumers think brands have been effective in raising awareness of important public issues, while 62% say that brands have been effective in educating people on public issues.

Consumers also think brands are effective in driving political change in areas such as influencing politics (62%) and uniting consumers with different political viewpoints (60%). However, they are thought to be less effective in encouraging consumers to vote (49%).

The full report can be downloaded here.

About the Data: Results are based on a survey of 1,505 US consumers conducted online between August 21-26, 2019.

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