CHICAGO: It can be risky for a brand to attempt communications that touch on social issues – as Pepsi discovered to its cost with its controversial ad featuring Kendall Jenner last year – but most consumers still want brands to communicate their values.

That is according to analytics firm Sprout Social, which conducted a survey of more than 1,000 US consumers for its Championing Change in the Age of Social Media study.

Its in-depth research into American attitudes to brand communications revealed that two-thirds (66%) believe it is important for brands to engage in social and political issues, such as human rights or race relations, with a clear majority (58%) open to this happening on social media.

US consumers also believe brands are more effective on social media when they announce donations to specific causes (39%) and encourage followers to take particular steps to support causes (37%), such as participating in events or making their own donations.

However, while consumers are open to hearing from brands, another two-thirds (66%) say posts from brands rarely or never influence their views on social issues.

And relevance is crucial for brands seeking to engage consumers on societal issues because otherwise they risk a backlash.

According to the survey findings, consumers say brands are most credible when an issue directly impacts their customers (47%), employees (40%) and business operations (31%).

Furthermore, if a brand gets its messaging right so that consumers’ personal beliefs align with what it is saying, around half (52%) will show greater brand loyalty, 44% say they would be likely to purchase more from the brand and 28% say they would praise the brand publicly.

“Given how emotionally and politically charged social media has become, brands are right to be apprehensive about wading into controversial waters,” the report said.

“Fortunately, the data shows that brands face more rewards than risks when it comes to sharing their positions … A greater percentage of consumers will show brand loyalty in times of agreement than will boycott a company in times of disagreement.”

Sourced from Sprout Social; additional content by WARC staff