When should a company act on community concerns?

When should a company act on community concerns?

With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining global prominence, there has been an outpouring of support from corporations both large and small from around the world.

Public statements have blanketed social media, activists have taken to the knee in solidarity, ‘Black Lives Matter’ murals have been commissioned and brand names with racist connotation have been changed.

A traditional public relations approach tells us that this is the right thing to do. Reacting to popular values makes perfect business sense because the position is largely in tune with public values.

While acting on public values is a prerequisite to positive social action, in many ways, it’s simply a response to intense media scrutiny which is only symptom of a much deeper issue understood by the community.

The death of George Floyd ignited a storm of demonstrations against racism and police brutality. Communities around the world understood the impact of institutionalised racism long before his death and, therefore, are hostile to corporate messaging that supports the movement without any meaningful change to its business strategy.  

At Futureye, we have been plotting the evolution of social issues against a peer-reviewed social maturity curve that has been developed and refined over two decades.

The maturity curve shows that every social issue evolves through a series of events, from its initial appearance as a fringe idea through to stabilisation as a social norm. By understanding the stage of the issue, organisations can intervene tactfully and, therefore, increases its social licence to operate.

To put it another way, the curve shows that every issue has a tipping point, after which it is simply no longer acceptable for a company to ignore.

Since most issues grow with relative stability, it’s easy for a business to ignore. However, as we have seen with the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice campaigns, there is a critical juncture at which the transition accelerates and become the norm.

Companies that are caught on the wrong side of the debate are faced with an intractable dilemma that could affect their social licence to operate, resulting in regulatory, legal or financial action.

Although it might sound counter-intuitive to a traditional public relations approach, what our curve highlights is that corporations can get ahead of social unrest by understanding how societal values evolve and proactively addressing them before being put in the public spotlight.

Applied in conjunction with our risk communications framework, organisations can not only generate commercial advantages by getting ahead of the curve, but also engage proactively with the issue without having their actions labelled as virtue signaling.

If you’d like to learn more about how our social maturation curve can work for your business, get in touch with us at info@futureye.com.