Responding to the growing number of Americans who are demanding more restrictions on gun and ammunition sales, Walmart and Kroger are asking shoppers to not open carry unless they are members of law enforcement.
Big box businesses like Walmart and Kroger understand the responsibility—and see the opportunity—in this positioning. In an open letter to Walmart employees, Chief Executive Doug McMillon said the company would stop selling ammunition used for handguns and military-style weapons, completely end the sale of handguns and discourage anyone from carrying weapons in any Walmart location including in “open carry” states.
These corporate decisions, while not popular among all Americans, are important for regulating their brand image among their consumers. For Walmart, this positioning lends also toward improving their brand among those who, out of principle and for many reasons, have chosen NOT to shop in their stores. With every corporate decision comes backlash, and it’s become clear already that many open carry advocates are beginning to boycott Walmart in favor of stores that either do not take a position on this issue or simply have not made it known.
Issues related to gun rights and ownership have an impact on just about everyone, so it’s no surprise these issues are now a matter of corporate social responsibility. Its no longer just about companies being green or being an inclusive workplace or finding other ways to give back to communities. The issues are becoming more politically charged and citizens are demanding from them more socio-political positioning. Corporations are now figuring out what stands are safe and good for them from a public relations perspective, which ones come with risks and weighing the costs.
Corporate social responsibility as a form of reputation management is an area of marketing applicable to every size of business and organization. As part of a marketing strategy, it’s a way for businesses to get in front of their customers by getting in front of issues with a specific message. Many companies want to make a difference in their communities, regions or world, but the reality is that they want to be seen while making that difference. Whether it’s an act of generosity with some type of community benefit or a new company policy with social impact, there is nothing morally repugnant about putting out the press release or doing the photo op because it can motivate other businesses to similar actions. No company stock is going to plummet and there is no expectation for franchise-wide boycotts to occur for doing the right thing unless it’s just not the right time or they’ve misread public sentiment. And therein lies the challenge for businesses when choosing to respond to social issues and hot political topics—it is not without its risks.
Marketing is a fun, creative activity that can also test your patience, especially the area of reputation management. Everything is marketing, not just your logo, your business card and advertising campaigns. Everything your audience sees you doing both personally and professionally represents your work. So your personal life can become a marketing asset or even a liability if you have any activity in social media and/or are visible in your community. Your brand identity is ultimately the experience your customers have with your product and any time they interact with you as a person. This can lead to your corporate identity being synonymous with your personal public image. To be clear, how people know you CAN impact your business, so it’s crucial to think before you speak, as the saying goes.
So you’re wondering the obvious question, where is the line between my public and private life? Clearly everyone in any business just wants to shed themselves of their work and do their own thing on their own time and not be seen, even if it’s just for a little while. Those days are over. The era of social media has essentially eliminated the privacy anyone ever really enjoyed. Unless you’re inactive on your social channel profiles, the world has access to your pet pictures, social vents and your personal beliefs and values. And because they won’t ever really go away, your words and images on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have the potential to define your brand identity and overshadow your products and services. As soon as you start to share all things personal, the line between your public and private life has essentially been erased.
So the concerns you may have about how to maintain your positive standing as a business owner are best answered by how you choose to be visible. Here are 6 tips to managing your reputation online and off, and preserve a bit of that line that separates the personal image from the public.
- Avoid public discussion on deeply controversial topics. Many families still adhere to the maxim “don’t discuss politics and religion” at holiday gatherings. The point is clear. You can’t change who your family is but you can avoid conflict with the people who are always yours. Do the same with your customers and community. Your business is about selling a product or service you believe in. The second you walk into a dispute entirely unrelated to your work, it may mean a loss in revenue. If someone wants to buy a dozen cookies from your store, should it really matter who they voted for in the last election? You may never restore a relationship with a customer or client if all they remember how angry you got in social media or the argument they witnessed in your store.
- Don’t share your boudoir photos. If you’re on social media and you like to post selfies, be sure that the context in which they are taken doesn’t morally compromise any projects or products you’re involved with. For instance, if your work entails counseling people with alcohol addiction, don’t post images of yourself drinking 6 martinis. If you are the president of a local nonprofit aimed at helping underprivileged children, you should reconsider posting anything that has sexually explicit themes. People shouldn’t judge–but they do.
- Get out in front of a story. If there is some bad press coming your way about something you may or may not have had control over, be the first to address it. Don’t hide from it or give people time to make up their own mind about why you’re not addressing the issue. Take responsibility and practice transparency. Make all apologies that are necessary and take appropriate action to rectify the matter. It’s important to listen, respond and show your willingness to alter policies or procedures to inspire the confidence of your audience, especially those who are paying real close attention to the matter at hand. Marketing strategy often involves crisis communications. To stay in business, you need to be able to manage a crisis and not let it manage you.
- Privatize your emotions. If something or someone on social media or in the community upsets you, don’t fly off the handle. Give serious thought to your reactions and responses. Always keep the long game in mind, because people remember who the keyboard warriors are. If you must address an issue, make sure you’re addressing it with facts. Avoid attacking and insulting people, keep the focus on the issue. Remaining cool, calm and collected in your community is the recipe for a solid reputation.
- Be positive and supportive. If your local and social footprint is known for being an encouragement to others, you really don’t have anything to worry about. Be a team player in the community and in social media. Support the great work that others are doing. This is another great way to get your name and business out there, too. Show empathy when necessary and be a person known for charity and courteousness. People love to support businesses who are known for supporting a community and its causes.
- Keep your social posts to a minimum. Whether for personal or business purposes, if it seems that all you do is hang out on Facebook, this probably is not helpful. Push your business posts only as frequently as necessary. People who follow your business online don’t want to see their feed filled with just your content. Be strategically discreet on the social channels so that people remember who you are instead of wishing you’d go away.
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