Does Taking a Political Stand on Social Media Increase Engagement?

Data and surveys indicate that engaging with politics on social media can increase engagement with your brand--but your product and business model, what consumers may consider political or not, and target audiences are all vital considerations before devising a strategy.

The Numbers

While finding data specifically on how political speech affects brand engagement on social media may be tricky, statistics about brands and political speech in general are abundant and can applied confidently to social media.

Political speech and tapping into conversations or movements using hashtags will likely increase engagement rate (ER) on social media. In 2020, political pages had the highest engagement rate per post on both Facebook and Twitter out of 35 total industries and carried the third-highest ER on Instagram. 

Studies from multiple sources suggest that consumers are open to, even expectant of, brands engaging politically. A survey from SAP revealed 63% of consumers prefer to purchase gifts from brands that support specific social positions. A study from Sprout Social contended that 66% of consumers wanted brands to take public stands on political issues. Interestingly, these trends are reflected in consumers' opinions of companies that sell consumer goods and staples: polling in 2020 showed that 68% of Americans wanted consumer brands to engage specifically with social issues. And 58% of consumers are most receptive to brands communicating social and political positions on social media, the highest percentage of 11 mediums polled.

Surveys show that liberal and left-leaning audiences are more likely than conservative or right-leaning audiences to think positively of brands aligning with political and social movements.

What This Means

These numbers indicate that your audience is likely to be open to your brand taking a political stance on social media. If your target is predominantly left-leaning or Gen-Z, they may even be looking for your brand to engage politically and express its values.

So...what kinds of things count as "politics"?

What do audiences consider political speech? What constitutes "taking a stand"?

Voting is a key pillar of the American political process, and encouraging audiences to vote garners bipartisan support. Users across the political and age spectrum approve Get Out the Vote campaigns from nearly every brand on social media. According to Morning Consult, 46% of consumers viewed more favorably companies that got involved with voter registration efforts, and 58% viewed more favorably companies that gave employees Election Day off of work. These trends will likely extend to brands that encourage voting on social media. 

Urging your audience to engage with the electoral process, offering reminders to vote, or even rewards and incentives to do so is generally viewed as a brand performing its civic duty and received favorably by consumers.

Source: Sprout Social

What is the nature of your brand?

The focus of your brand or business may also help determine what kind of and how much political speech your audience will support. 

Suppose you are, for example, a small business making social media content raising awareness of legislative initiatives that affect your business. In that case, this will likely be accepted by your customers and audience, with the potential to increase engagement and drive users to support your cause. The Right to Repair movement, for instance, and its importance for small electronic repair and retail is a prime example. A brand related to aquatic sports or outdoor adventures may logically support environmental causes and conservation initiatives.

If legislation will affect your business or industry, sharing your opinions, increasing awareness, and even mobilizing users will all likely be viewed as appropriate, rather than divisive, by your existing audience.

Who is your audience?

As mentioned above: younger and/or left-leaning users tend to view brands that engage politically more favorably than brands that do not. Many older and/or right-leaning users are indifferent about brands engaging politically - a minority even view engaged brands less favorably. 

Use analytics to determine your audience's demographics on various social media platforms to help decipher how much you stand to gain (or lose) by aligning your brand with a cause or movement.

The Bottom Line

Taking a stand politically will likely increase your brand's engagement rate on social media.

However, there is such a thing as bad publicity in this circumstance.

When your brand takes a political stand on social media, it may endear some users and alienate others. When, where, and how to align your brand with a political movement should be influenced by your audience and the nature and values of your brand.

Need help crafting a social media strategy that promotes your business and also takes a stand on social issues? Shoot us a message below!

What Social Media Activism Means for Businesses

In today's digital age, social media has more power to conceive, grow, and mobilize entire social and political movements than ever before. 

With the digital landscape evolving in size and influence, individuals, organizations, and entire movements are utilizing social media to spread their message and demand change. Social media activism has become a core tenant to the online experience, for better or for worse. 

The Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements, the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ legistlation have found footing and support on the digital plains of social media. Activists are taking over the digital space to cultivate awareness, organize protests, and hold individuals and businesses accountable.

So what does this social media activism mean for businesses?

Brands are scared of offending current and potential customers, but research shows that consumers, especially Millennials and younger generations, want to know what their chosen businesses believe in. 

90% of consumers state that authenticity is important in deciding which businesses to support, according to a recent survey by Stackla. Shared values are an increasingly important factor in consumer relations and loyalty, so customers are looking at businesses' reactions to social movements and controversies even more closely. Below are some examples of how large corporations have responded to the rise in digital activism.

The National Football League

The NFL's statement following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd was received as hollow and hypocritical. The organization has a history of unfair treatment towards their players and staff of color. After kneeling during the national anthem in protest against social injustice, Colin Kaepernick faced extreme backlash and a bona-fide ex-communication from the organization.  

Target

Target put out a statement after a Minnesota location was looted. The statement mentions a community in pain, instead going in depth concerning the damage of one of their stores. They talk in vague strokes and never explicitly state they are talking about the Black community. 

Glossier

Glossier released a statement outlining their support for the BLM movement and the steps they would take to support their workers, including donating $1 million towards racial justice causes. However, ex-Glossier workers describe the company as failing their Black employees.

Ben and Jerry's

Ben and Jerry's speaks on and participates extensively in social and political issues. They have a dedicated page on their website that calls for the dismantling of white supremacy and extensively outlines a history of systemic opression and violence against the Black community. They call upon others and themselves to work together in the fight for justice. The founders themselves participated in BLM protests, with their arrests going viral on social media. 

The Lesson Here...

Silence on social matters is becoming less and less of an option, but some statements end up doing more harm than good. When companies speak in vague terms, without acknowledgement of their past and promise of concrete steps forward, they present as inauthentic. Their posts embody a certain level of performative activism. Customers will know if your actual business goals and practices do not align with what you are posting.

Woke language and well-placed hashtags alone are not enough to mask hypocritical behavior. Authenticity demands action, and action demands effort. Past shortcomings or mistakes when it comes to diversity and inclusion aren't necessarily grounds for eternal ˜cancelling.' Rather, they demand genuine efforts to re-learn and repair.

Some businesses favor silence over taking specific sides on social justice issues or political controversies. However, silence is still a statement. Silence can be seen as acceptance, complacency, or a disguise for shady corporate actions. 

Bank of America predicts that Gen-Z is one of the fastest-growing consumer groups, with incomes estimated to surpass those of Millennials within a decade. Gen-Z is more ethnically and racially diverse than previous generations, with increasingly liberal social and political ideals. This combination of ideals with increasing spending power and social media has shaped and continues to shape a new generation of consumers. 

We must acknowledge that, yes, profit can be made from staying silent or speaking out about social issues. Aligning corporate values with customer beliefs is often carefully planned to increase connection, loyalty, and a strategy that marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Americus Reed, calls a form of values and identity-driven marketing. 

But profit should not be the only driving factor in the fight for social justice. Consumers are smart. In particular, Gen-Z consumers are skeptical of businesses' abilities to act in society's best interests, more likely to trust demonstrable actions of the company and its employees. That is to say, you can't bullshit activism.

Authenticity demands action, and action demands effort.

The Bottom Line

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for businesses wondering how to interact and engage with social movements. What's best for your business depends on intent, authenticity, and action-backed statements. It's not enough to write buzzword-filled press statements and social media posts. 

Not all businesses have to engage with social or political issues. But if your company profits heavily off the inventions, work, or culture of people of color, you have increased obligations to speak and act with intention and integrity for minority communities.

More generally, how do you, as a company, genuinely stand behind and support the movements sweeping across the country? How can and will you financially, socially, physically, and emotionally support these communities, within and beyond your company's walls?

Supporting one thing or another will inevitably result in some level of consumer dissatisfaction. Then again, what's new? You can never truly please every single one of your customers, so you may as well support civil rights in the meantime. 

If you decide to, speak up and speak out not for profit, but out of a moral obligation to leave this world more aware, more inclusive, and more accepting than you found it.

Want to learn more about how to support communities your business serves? We're here to help! Reach out to us below.