How Brands Can Affect Positive Social Change

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In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economic turmoil, and the Black Lives Matter movement, no business remains untouched by the major events of 2020.

Amid such upheavals, however, there is an opportunity for brands large and small to create positive change in their communities. Some brands, including Ben & Jerry’s, Netflix, Disney, and Nike, have taken to social media to voice support for Black Lives Matter, for example.

But messaging is not enough; now is the time for carefully considered action.

If you’re worried that actively working toward the future you claim you support will lose you customers, you should know that, in reality, many customers expect brands to take a stance on societal issues rather than remain neutral. According to an Edelman report, 56% of survey participants felt brands had a responsibility to speak out against racial injustice, and 60% expected brands to actively invest in efforts to combat the causes of said injustice.

Ready to take steps beyond posting #BlackLivesMatter on your brand’s social media page? Here are four ways your company can put its money, time, and energy to good use.

1. Put your money where your mouth is.

First up: Donations. Use your company’s resources to support other people and organizations who are doing real work to further causes you champion. Big-name brands are donating in droves to causes currently at the forefront of global attention. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, reported he would give $120 million to fund scholarships at several historically Black colleges and universities. Chevron, Coca-Cola Philippines, and Jeff Bezos have all pledged to donate millions to support essential workers, food banks, and others affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some brands are helping customers donate as well: Chipotle is donating $500,000 to the National Urban League, but it will also let customers round up at payment to donate to the same cause. If your company has millions to donate, great. But even if you don’t have that kind of cash, you can still make a difference by finding a local organization to support with what you do have.

2. Seek out effective partnerships.

Next, take a look at your network to see how you can amplify your reach through partnerships.

“Don’t try to solve big problems on your own,” says Sarah Clark, CEO of the Dentsu Aegis Network’s flagship PR agency, Mitchell. “Engage your customers, vendors, and other stakeholders in creating solutions. Figure out how you can scale up your efforts to gain real momentum.”

There are so many opportunities to partner with others in the pursuit of social change. Gather a group of local businesses to put on a fundraiser together or create a scholarship fund. Partner with a nonprofit in your space, and use your platform and funds to promote it. Find an organization in need of volunteers, then set up a program where your employees can sign up to fill those slots. Use these as springboards to, as Clark suggests, work with your team and stakeholders to identify partnerships your brand can pursue.

3. Take a look in the mirror.

Donations? Check. Partnerships? Check. All done? No way. If you really want to take meaningful action, you need to look within and ensure that your company reflects the values you say you support. Otherwise, your messaging may ring hollow—just like L’Oréal Paris’s June 2020 post did.

After the company posted that it “stands in solidarity with the Black community,” an ambassador whose relationship with the brand was terminated after she spoke out against racism in 2017 fired back, saying L’Oréal’s post was “gaslighting.”

If you support organizations aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement, make sure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are a priority within your own company. Look at your board and leadership teams and determine whether they reflect the future those organizations are fighting for. If they don’t, consider bringing in an expert to help you enact change in your company.

If you support action to address climate change, source your products sustainably. Donating funds or supplies to frontline workers amid the pandemic? Make sure your own employees also have health benefits, paid time off, and the support they need.

4. Keep up the fight.

If you make statements and donations one time as part of a national or global conversation and then never mention them again, your customers—and employees—will know those actions weren’t genuine. Positive social change is a long game, and making lasting change, even within your own organization, may take time. That means a quick fix like a one-time event or a big donation isn’t going to cut it.

Instead, you need to build your efforts into your business plan. When you’re planning next year’s budget, include your donations upfront, rather than waiting to donate whatever’s left at the end of the quarter. Make DEI discussions or conversations about sustainability a recurring segment on every board meeting agenda moving forward.

From there, keep your company accountable by reporting on the actions you take toward positive social change in every companywide meeting or conference you hold.

If you want to use your brand’s platform to share messages of support for positive change, you need to put action behind them. Posting a black square on Instagram won’t help solve any problems, but donations, partnerships, internal changes, and long-term plans will. Your customers will appreciate your dedication to the cause, and you’ll help make your city, country, and globe a better place for all who reside there.



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