Social Risk - Pressured to Speak

Pressured to Speak? Consider These Four Things First

September 3, 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about social risk. More than I’ve ever seen, corporations and organizations are being pressured to weigh in on societal and political issues. I see great social risk in commenting, in not commenting and in the timing of any comment. We’ll be exploring social risk in this space in the coming weeks. 

For now, I’d like to share four specific things that are important to consider when deciding on whether, when and what to say in response to social pressures.

First, be crystal clear about your values. What you stand for as an organization should instruct any position you may take on any issue. Whatever comment you make – or don’t make – on a social issue should align with your values. If it doesn’t, anything you say will come across as forced or hollow.

Second, you can’t address social risk by making a single statement. You can’t say something bold, drop the mic and walk away. Wading into today’s social issues means committing yourself and your organization for the long haul. You don’t have to solve the bigger social issue, but each of us can contribute toward solutions. Consider how your actions are going to create meaningful change over time within your organization and sphere of influence. Because those are going to be the expectations of you once you take that first step. I believe history – and the people who matter most to you – will judge your organization’s follow-through, not its initial statement.

Third, is it possible to narrowcast your position? Posting a statement to social media or issuing a press release is a broadcast. Narrowcasting can reduce your social risk. Think about who matters most to you and the best ways of reaching those audiences. Can you do a town hall or focus on small group meetings? Can you speak directly to your employees or your customers? Narrowcasting to these crucial audiences puts your message directly in the ears of those who know you best. They are more likely to recognize sincerity and commitment to action than people trolling on social media.

Finally, is the time right? We’re facing very dynamic situations in our country right now. The situation changes very quickly, but social risk remains. You may be criticized for moving too slowly, but the more you observe about the social environment, the more impactful your statement can become. It’s impossible to know the perfect time, but it’s not necessary to dive right in just because something has happened and social pressure is building on you to say something. At the very least, take the time to develop your plan for addressing the issue in your workplace, your customer-facing operations and your board room before making a statement.

So please consider these things before you take a stand. We think it’s critically important for organizations to live their values and do what’s right, even if that means being slow or silent. When it comes to social risk, saying the wrong thing fast is more damaging than saying the right thing slowly.


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.