6 Ways to Develop an Authentic Voice for Social Change

The good news: Companies focused on social change have a ready, audience eager to engage: young America (18-30). The (potentially) bad news for those that are not intentional? This audience will call you out for your inauthenticity.

Your role in social change should be to develop an authentic voice to stand up for issues without thrusting yourself into the role of omnipotent leader.

In a recent article for AdWeek, Senior Editor Patrick Coffee wrote about companies that are feeling their way toward an authentic voice, some with more success than others. These attempts demonstrate the opportunities and pitfalls companies face in what may be the ultimate exercise of navel-gazing: asking ourselves who we really are and what we stand for as a business.

In its simplest form, corporate social impact work (CSR/ESG) is a business and intentional strategy toward a social, political and/or cultural goal. As we act as responsible citizens of the world, we need to ensure intentionality in our strategies and moves, not just higher consumer loyalty.

To move in an authentic and strategic manner for social impact, companies can progress in 6 meaningful ways:

1. Listen.

It's imperative to understand and listen to conversations that are already happening around your issue. Becoming informed is vital in order to act appropriately and authentically.

2. Mingle.

Go out among the people who are working to create change and the beneficiaries of the work. Make an effort to understand how these already-engaged leaders, stakeholders and causes create change, as well as what is actually needed to transform the population you’re ultimately trying to serve.

3. Research language and stories.

Developing a good idea of the language, concerns and passion points surrounding an issue can help you tell effective stories later, as well as decide ahead of time what your stance/response will be to highly charged issues. Gaining an overall understanding of an issue’s history, current status and impending influences can help you avoid overpowering the conversation and, instead, dramatize the issue in an unforgettable way.

4. Keep a low(er) profile.

Be cognizant of your company’s visibility. The issue isn’t about your business; it’s about who is being helped, challenged and/or impacted. Even if your activities help your business, be extremely cautious about taking credit. You’ll be most successful when supporters, consumers and your audiences feel directly connected to those they’re helping without you standing in the way.

5. Be brave.

Remember to be active in the good or boring times as well as the bad or high-profile times. To influence a younger demographic that is demanding authenticity and transparency, companies must be bold in their cause work. Consistent courage (informed by facts) is an authentic emotion that inspires respect, trust and action in others.

6. Ask for action.

Today, businesses must do more than ask young Americans to notice their support of an issue (and purchase their product because of it). Companies must ask these ardent young people to literally do something — preferably with their peers — that allows them to demonstrate their own commitment to the issue while, at the same time, advancing it. By giving them something concrete they can do to help the issue, then you'll be doing more than you realize to advance your company.

Use these six roles and actions as you craft social issue and corporate strategies. If you engage people in your cause work in this way, you will build the relationships and loyalty, interest and affinity you desire while impacting an issue that’s relevant and important to today’s young Americans.

Derrick Feldmann