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Silence is 'no longer an option'

Silence has quietly become a huge threat to organizational value.

Even for organizations unaccustomed to the spotlight or with a predisposition for discretion, our ever transparent and polarized world seems to be demanding more than simple quality and value to succeed.

Perhaps social equity cannot be seen nor banked. Yet in can be felt. Regardless, the management of public affairs has increasingly become an indispensable commodity in the generation of loyalty, brand value and resultant profitability. Trumpism is only the latest iteration but the phenomenon has been growing.

“Staying quiet about issues may no longer be an option,” writes Leslie Gains Ross in the Harvard Business Review. “In today’s environment, CEO’s may find themselves under pressure to speak out.”

To be sure, the creation of social equity is far more complex than a clever and omnipresent social media presence. Nevertheless, with activism and civic engagement reaching historic levels, pressure is building on companies to publicly take a stand on issues in a way never before experienced.

False flags, fake news and manufactured truth can come from disgruntled employees, competitors, political detractors or any number of perceived foes who seek to capture a company’s value and/or market share. If you haven’t noticed, business today is naked survival in the rampant world of digital tribalism.

Moreover, even in the absence of a crisis, there is increasing pressure for companies to take stands on critical public issues so the let their customers, employees and stakeholders understand who they are and what they value.

So the essential question is no longer should your brand take a stand but what should we say publicly…when…to whom, how and under what circumstances? Chances are if you don’t define your organization, someone else will.

Surveys going back to the advent of social media indicate consumers in record numbers care deeply about what a company stands for and how fair is their ecosystem. Increasing numbers of consumers support companies – or not – depending on what they perceive and understand about them, regardless of product.

Obviously, it’s complicated. There are no simple answers and situations will differ for almost every company. Irregardless of social standing, company size, demographics, market position, etc., the scenario is nevertheless one for which every company should imminently be prepared.

Research cited by Gaines Ross in HBR indicates how a company responds, and curiously, how quickly, often has more impact on public perception of the affected company than what is actually said. So CEOs and management teams should immediately begin to explore potential outcomes and create strategies.

Companies should inventory their core values, fully understand their market segments, media assets and always be consistent in communicating with the public. When possible, CEO’s and companies should create ad-hoc alliances to respond (such as we’ve seen with the recent immigration debate) as there is always safety in numbers.

Therefore, companies large and small, local to global, would be wise to perform a public affairs audit to discover their social equity to preserve their market value. Moreover, social equity is of course a powerful tool in recruiting – and retaining – top talent to build greater overall value.

Like it or not, CEOs and company management teams will increasingly be called upon to choose the right words to deliver to an eager public audience while warring tribes of digital competitors look on.

What we say then, how we say it and to whom can make a massive difference in the success, or failure, of any enterprise. Future outcomes will almost assuredly depend on it.

Bottom line, market value today can in many cases be created – and measured - in an entirely new way. Social equity as part of the value proposition has ironically become a commodity that money alone can no longer buy.

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