How to Communicate in Today’s Charged Atmosphere

Few companies are trying to make a Starbucks-like statement in today’s highly politicized communication environment. Many brands choose to respect the diverse opinions of employees and customers and avoid becoming a target of unanticipated backlash.

While the best practices listed below have been key tenets in crisis communications management for decades, the current political climate and reactionary consumer environment make it more important to remind ourselves of these skills as you prepare for the possibility of online attacks, boycotts, protests and other forms of fallout.
Below are insights, based on case studies, to help you listen to the market and respond at the pace required today.

Understand heightened audience sensitivity: Commenting on policy issues that touch your business has never been completely risk-free. Today it can be downright flammable. Some observers will perceive that a company is taking sides should it hold a public view on anything even tangentially related to politics. It matters little if that perception is true or not. Social media platforms will perpetuate the story at lightning speed, potentially alienating half of a brand’s constituents within an hour.

Boston-based athletic shoe brand New Balance learned this lesson a few days after the 2016 election, when it reaffirmed its opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Even though the company’s stance was consistent with the campaign platform of both major political parties, social media activists took it as evidence that New Balance supported the president-elect. Opponents of the incoming administration called immediately for a boycott of the brand and urged customers to burn their New Balance running shoes.

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