This blog is provided by the IPR Cision Insights Fellowship
The Roe v. Wade reversal led to a series of ongoing protests both in support of and against abortion. The discourse put every company that does business in the U.S. in a tricky situation: determining how to strategically respond to this issue without offending their stakeholders who may stand on either side of the issue. With the support of Cision’s Insights team and Brandwatch software, this study investigated how companies have responded to this socio-political issue and public discussions about it on Twitter.
This study first looked at the Top 10 World’s Most Admired Companies ranked by Fortune in 2022: Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Pfizer, Walt Disney, Berkshire Hathaway, Alphabet, Starbucks, Netflix, and JPMorgan Chase (Fortune, 2022). Surprisingly, excluding three companies that either don’t have an official Twitter account (i.e., Berkshire Hathaway and Alphabet) or don’t have any tweets on their account (i.e., Apple), the remaining seven companies with official and active Twitter accounts didn’t post anything related to the Roe v. Wade reversal. However, according to two reports published by The New York Times and Ragan, eight out of the Top 10 Most Admired Companies published a media release or employee memo that offered employee healthcare benefits, such as covering reproductive-related travel expenses (Goldberg, 2022; Joffe, 2022). Although these companies published policies internally to provide employee benefits on reproductive rights, none of them publicized their policies externally.
Generally speaking, public discussion about these companies in the context of the Roe v. Wade reversal was negative on Twitter. There were several primary reasons for these negative mentions. Twitter users commonly: 1) condemned companies donating money to anti-abortion political groups, which was inconsistent with the company’s commitment to provide employees with reproductive related healthcare; 2) disliked companies providing healthcare benefits for employees who sought an abortion and questioned companies that didn’t have a genuine motive to do so; 3) boycotted the companies by not purchasing their products or services.
Then, the next question emerges: was there a company that spoke out publicly on Twitter, and how did Twitter users respond to it? After a near-exhaustive review, there were only a handful of companies (e.g., DICK’S Sporting Goods, Lime, Twilio) and CEOs (e.g., Yelp, HP, Box) that issued a public statement on Twitter. The statements were mainly about the company’s decisions to provide employee reproductive-related benefits in response to the Roe v. Wade reversal. Overall, the public tended to show less negative sentiment toward companies that issued a public statement compared to top companies that didn’t speak up.
Implications for the Industry
Each company is different with its own purpose, and each social issue has its own unique considerations. Although it is impossible to develop a rule-of-thumb guideline that can be applied to all companies in any context, there are takeaways that companies could consider when deciding if they should speak out on a social issue:
— Evaluate if speaking out on an issue aligns with corporate purpose. Corporate purpose is the overarching guideline that directs every business strategy. It’s unrealistic for companies to speak up on every social issue. This is when corporate purpose should come in handy to direct a company’s social advocacy decision. If the issue aligns with your core purpose, it makes more sense to weigh in.
— Talk the talk and walk the walk. Simply making a statement is not enough for a company to be perceived as authentic. Stakeholders expect companies to take real action. If taking a stance aligns well with the corporate purpose and character, the next criterion is to evaluate if the company has enough resources to take appropriate actions and make social impacts.
Survey stakeholders’ sentiments and reactions to the issue before determining a response plan. By listening to, understanding, and recognizing stakeholders’ viewpoints, key concerns, and reactions, companies can create their response strategies to better acknowledge, respond to, and address stakeholders’ concerns.
— Be consistent and authentic across all business decisions. Every message a company publishes and every action it makes are interrelated and influence the overall brand reputation. Inconsistent behaviors across different social issues may cause people to criticize the company’s genuineness and cause more backlash from consumers than staying silent.
— Strategically communicate with your stakeholders. Strategic communication plays a vital role in maximizing the benefits when weighing in on controversial social issues. For example, when dealing with the divisive Roe v. Wade issue, instead of simply taking a definitive stance, companies can acknowledge the complexity of the issue and the viewpoints from both sides.
When the world is filled with increasing conflicts, disagreements, and controversies, companies should apply strategic communication to facilitate harmony, instead of further dividing the community.
Fortune. (2022, February 1). World’s Most Admired Companies. Fortune. https://fortune.com/worlds-most-admired-companies/
Goldberg, E. (2022, Aug 19). These companies will cover travel expenses for employee abortions. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/article/abortion-companies-travel-expenses.html
Joffe, J. (2022, July 22). How companies are succeeding – or failing – at supporting employees on abortion rights. Ragan Communications. https://www.ragan.com/how-companies-are-succeeding-or-failing-at-supporting-employees-on-abortion-rights/
Yufan “Sunny” Qin (Ph.D., University of Florida) is an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies at James Madison University. Her research interests include corporate communication, leadership communication, corporate purpose, corporate social advocacy, and relationship management. She has published articles in academic journals, such as Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Review, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, and International Journal of Business Communications. She primarily teaches courses in the public relations concentration, such as public relations campaigns and campaign research methods.