The question isn’t whether brands should take a stand but how and when.
Today’s entrepreneurs are using their platforms and voice to advocate for the issues they care about most. While being passionate and vocal is valuable, companies must remain viable — and the key to this is an unimpeachable personal brand.
A well-constructed and strategic personal brand opens doors and creates a long-lasting sense of community. It provides a foundation for a shared voice and mission. Taking a stand for what you believe in helps to build a strong brand that can help you make a meaningful difference in the world.
Accessing this kind of power starts by constructing a brand centered around your core values. Your core values are the critical set of values by which you live, communicate and make decisions: What’s right, what’s wrong? What’s good, what’s bad? When you align your values with your actions, your brand gains credibility and trust.
Therefore, considering the option to take a public and high-profile stand or a position requires deciding how and when you align the messages you want to project with the values you hold dear. Ask yourself questions such as: Why do I feel compelled to speak out? Am I the right person to be publicly addressing these issues? Have I thought through my position? How can I protect myself from misinterpretation?
I’ve spent years teaching executives to establish strategic brands and speak their truth authentically. Here is my best advice for leveraging your personal brand to address the issues that matter most to you.
1. Create context
In the age of social media, consumers want to know what the leaders and companies they follow stand for. Yet when a leader takes a stand without a plan or proper consideration, it can communicate ignorance — or worse. How should an entrepreneur proceed?
There’s a common misconception that the less you post about your beliefs, the lower the risk that what you say will be misunderstood or incite backlash. Actually, sharing and posting consistent content that reflects your values and beliefs creates a context around your every future word and action. This context protects you from misinterpretation and gives you an air of authenticity that’s hard to come by on social media.
Begin by identifying your core values and sharing what you care about on the platforms you use. As you communicate your insights, positions and beliefs, tie each back to your values.
Strive for a narrower focus rather than a broad, all-encompassing set of values. If you take a position on every trending topic or news headline, you could water down the effect of what you stand for. Alexander Hamilton once claimed: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for anything.” In other words, if you stand for everything, you stand for nothing. When we’re too wide-reaching in our values, we risk watering them down.
2. Build a network of supporters
Spreading a message means finding the right people to share it with. A network of people who embrace your values will become your greatest asset.
The good news is that the context you’re building with intentional content will do much of the heavy lifting for you. When you’re clear and consistent about what you care about, you naturally attract others who share your beliefs, want to learn from you, and will help advance your positions.
If you’re looking to be more proactive in gaining visibility, seek out others whose brand reflects the one you’re in the process of creating. Share their posts, interact and cross-promote wherever possible to bring their network closer to yours. The name of the game here is still authenticity, so check in with your core values as you begin to amass greater followers.
3. Use your voice to advocate
Once you’ve established a consistent, authentic brand and an engaged audience, you have an opportunity to speak up when current events strike your heart and you just can’t sit by quietly.
Even when backed by a strong, authentic brand, remain intentional and strategic about getting involved. Whenever you choose to speak up publicly about an issue, make sure what you’re saying ties into your overall personal brand. Begin with your values and search for the connecting thread.
Take my advocacy for veterans as an example. I have no official direct connection to the military — however, as a grateful citizen, I wanted to bring a civilian voice to veteran advocacy. I found the connecting thread between the values I espouse as part of my brand — gratitude and generosity — and the issue I wanted to take a stand on. I made the context of gratitude and generosity front of mind in my posts about veterans, resulting in a more authentic and compelling message. When the issue aligns with my values and brand, I make my voice heard.
4. Avoid overreaching
Many online audiences are inundated with insincere messages from leaders and companies whose behaviors don’t match the values they claim. As a result, these audiences have become savvy at spotting inauthentic content and instantly lose trust in the poster. Worse, they can publicly expose the inconsistency, leading others to also become concerned or upset.
That’s why it’s sometimes better to stay in your lane when you’re tempted to speak on a topic that isn’t on-brand for you. If you can’t find the thread connecting the topic you want to comment on to your values, you might choose not to comment publicly. This is particularly true if your motivation for commenting or jumping into the conversation is to ride the wave of a trending topic in which you don’t truly have a personal stake or passionate opinion.
When you feel the urge to speak despite a missing thread, take a step back and be clear about your motivation. Are you getting involved because of genuine interest or concern or because of an opportunistic desire? Understanding the outcome you want — whether that’s profit, social or political change, personal motivations or popularity — can give you clarity on how your involvement might be received by your audience.
5. Give yourself space to step back
In online spaces, there are instances when entrepreneurs and business leaders feel pressured by their audience to comment publicly on current events or topics. You may not be prepared to join the conversation for a number of reasons. Maybe you haven’t fleshed out your views or reconciled your values and feelings. Or perhaps the topic is triggering for you in real, personal ways and you’re working through that first.
You shouldn’t feel obligated to publicly reconcile something that brings up trauma or deeply rooted concerns for you. I believe you may stay silent if you need to, provided the issue is not critical to the reputation and position you’ve already publicly advocated for. In this case, communicating that you’re processing how to respond may be a wise step.
It’s important to be clear about which values become a core part of your brand. For example, if inclusivity and diversity are the guiding values you’ve chosen, don’t be surprised when your audience expects you to comment on current events surrounding racial equity or gender discrimination but may not need to hear your thoughts on changing environmental issues.
Your personal brand can grow your audience, protect your image, boost your business, and be a force for change. The process of building that brand is a rewarding one that offers boundless opportunities to ignite meaningful conversations and take courageous stands.
Don’t be afraid to spread your authentic voice to a larger audience. Chances are that you’ll attract like-minded people along the way and empower them to lean into their own values and passions.
**As previously appeared on Entrepreneur.com