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The corporate activism mountain looks more and more like Mount Everest every year. Sociopolitical divides, combined with a higher level of expectations from consumers and the frequency of communication they have with companies, continuously grows taller. The trek can be simplified by narrowing in on three criteria: knowledge, authenticity and risk.

It’s important to note the distinction between corporate activism and corporate social responsibility. Corporate activism refers to a company’s efforts to take a stand on social issues that support societal change. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an organization’s broader effort to be accountable to itself, its stakeholders and the public ethically, economically and environmentally. 

Comparatively, corporate activism can be riskier as the issues at-hand are often controversial, whereas CSR initiatives are more widely accepted, expected and supported by most, even the investment community.

So, how do you approach corporate activism?

Understanding your publics (customers, shareholders, employees, for example) is the make-or-break factor of a successful, meaningful and well received corporate activism strategy. 

For example, consumers are more connected than ever to the businesses with which they choose to spend their money via social media channels and the ability to find almost anything online, and this means their expectations of corporate behavior have shifted. In B2C, research shows that 82% of consumers want to engage with organizations whose values align with theirs, and consumers are willing to choose another brand if they feel one does not reflect their own values.

Self awareness and openness among shareholders is imperative to determining whether to tackle a corporate activism initiative. An organization and its shareholders must be honest with themselves and each other about why they care, what and how much they can contribute (not just financially), and whether those contributions will truly impact the community they are aiming to help.

If there is uniform conviction, the organization must then turn to risk analysis. Identify who among your publics might disagree with the initiative, how they might react, what other issues related to this initiative could arise that the organization will have to address, and ultimately how it will impact business goals. Be intentional and measured about quantifying the risk in terms of customer alienation or loss.

Any corporate activism initiative is sure to generate naysayers who choose against your brand in the future. The objective is to contribute to an issue that your organization and its people genuinely care to solve or support, while also ensuring that your short- and long-term organizational performance is not adversely affected.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, but the focus of a corporate activism initiative should be maintaining authenticity as an organization. Consumers are smart—they will sniff out activism that lacks sincerity. Be true to the organization’s mission, values and purpose and understand the risks you will face. 

By doing so, you are most likely to execute a strategic activism initiative that advances your organization meaningfully in an increasingly challenging social environment.