Should your SMB jump into the political fray? In today’s culture, it may seem like a bad idea. However, a new study from Sprout Social found that consumers appreciate socially conscious branding and are expecting brands to take a stand on current events. The report, released yesterday, January 9, found that consumers want to hear from companies on immigration, civil rights and race relations.

While many SMBs may hesitate to weigh in on political issues for fear of alienating consumers – and that is a very real possibility, the consumers surveyed by Sprout Social overwhelmingly expect brands to put forth an opinion. Two-thirds of respondents feel that it’s important for companies to take a public stance on political issues, according to Sprout Social’s study, Championing Change in the Age of Social Media.

Additionally, social media has changed the way businesses engage with customers, as well as the way consumers expect to engage with brands. More than half (58 percent) of respondents want companies to announce their views on social media.

According to the report, consumers mostly react positively to socially conscious brands. The most common responses were “intrigued,” “impressed” and “engaged.” Additionally, when consumers agree with the brand, they will spread the word. The reward can be greater than the risk: 28 percent of survey respondents will publicly praise a company if they agree with the company’s stance on issues, while only 20 percent will publicly criticize a company with differing views.

Socially conscious brand sentiment

Succeeding at socially conscious branding

However, before you start posting about the latest bill being debated in Congress, the study found that brands who responsibly and effectively communicate views do a few key things, including gauging their consumer base and using their platforms to effect change. For example, 78 respondents who self-identified as liberal want brands to take a stand. Only about half (52 percent) of conservatives felt the same way.

Socially conscious brand by political affiliation

Also consider how you put forth opinions on social issues. Most respondents (66 percent) are not influenced by a post, but when a socially conscious brand attaches an action, like donating to a specific cause or taking specific steps, they’re more likely to be engaged (39 percent and 37 percent, respectively).

Finally, consider who is sending the message. The majority of respondents (59 percent) wanted to hear CEOs engage with consumers on these issues on social media. The CEO tends to carry more weight, especially with socially conscious branding.

“Brands that effectively navigate strategic decisions around when to take a stand on social have more opportunity than ever to turn potential risks into business opportunities,” said Andrew Caravella, VP of Strategy and Brand Engagement at Sprout Social, in a press release. “People not only want brands to speak out on social, but they want authenticity and values communicated cohesively by company leadership as well. People want to feel socially and politically connected to the brands they support—and while vocalizing opinions may drive away some customers, it will ultimately engender greater loyalty and enthusiasm from people who agree.”

 Ultimately, to be effective when becoming a socially conscious brand and jumping into the political fray, know your customer base, and include a call to action.