Twenty-twenty’s social, political, and environmental events were felt worldwide, but US interpretation and response were truly unique. Each state differed in its response to COVID-19, was the epicenter of race relations in the shadow of the George Floyd murder, and raised eyebrows when it withdrew from and then rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement.

In the name of corporate activism, companies were eager to inform the public how they were managing the virus internally, how they would confront issues of race, and what they would do to confront their environmental impact.

After a volatile year, the American public was ready for them to fulfill those promises in 2021.

In our full report on corporate activism, we explored the global impact of corporate activism in 2021. Now, we take a closer look stateside.

For an in-depth exploration of corporate activism, including the latest RepTrak data, insights, and recommended action items, read our full report here.

An American appetite

The unique social, political, and environmental landscape has created a very unified desire for companies to say and do the right thing in times of change. When so much of American life is rooted in its history and current relationships with its businesses (big and small), corporations have a renewed expectation and opportunity to demonstrate their commitment and responsibility to the public.

RepTrak’s corporate reputation monitoring software utilizes its advanced algorithms to study individual and overall reputation globally, regionally, and by industry.

As we monitor the eb and flow of Reputation Scores by region, US reputation score is lower than its global counterparts. However, it’s seen a steady rise over the past few months, while other regions have decreased.

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With the spotlight on the US response to global and local conflicts, US companies were eager to make public declarations quickly. And these gestures were welcomed by the American public.

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In the US, individual company Reputation Scores improved by an average of 8 points when the public was made aware of corporate advocacy efforts. In accordance with RepTrak’s reputation scale, that 8-point difference can mean the difference between an Average and Strong Reputation Score, and companies with an Excellent or Strong Reputation generally receive significantly more support from stakeholders.

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Americans also reported higher levels of trust and willingness to give the benefit of the doubt for activist companies – at nearly double the rate than those given to companies without advocacy.

This response is less surprising when 44% of the American public believe it is essential for corporations to provide both actions and words in response to cultural issues. Stateside, there is a demonstrated hunger for corporations to acknowledge both their power and role in the broader social, political, and environmental space.

But America’s relationship with corporate activism is complex.

Overwhelmed and underperforming

Recently, 21% of the American public stated that they would rather companies do nothing in response to social and political issues – more than double the global rate.

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Don’t hide behind that 21%. More than 80% of the American public and 91% of the global public are expecting you to do something. The vast majority of RepTrak data supports saying and doing the right thing is good for business – that’s why it’s our motto here at RepTrak.

In addition to reputation tracking, RepTrak also monitors ESG (Environmental – Social – Governance) scores, reflecting public perception of performance against 17 factors. This comes in handy when analyzing the effectiveness of corporate activism efforts.

RepTrak ESG data reveals that consumers are significantly more likely to purchase from and trust a company with a high ESG score. In fact, ESG is the most powerful indicator in determining whether or not the public is willing to trust a company and give it the benefit of the doubt.

This recent decrease won’t cancel out the long-term benefits of saying and doing the right thing. For many, these social, political, and environmental considerations have become overwhelming, and corresponding grand corporate gestures have become empty promises. Lead with relevant, timely, and effective action that don’t risk losing public trust and credibility. Then, provide regular communication on these efforts to keep your audience in the loop and demonstrate commitment.

To navigate this new landscape, it’s helpful to use a tool like RepTrak to track reputation in near real time, monitoring how your corporate activism efforts and communication impact your reputation and ESG perception and ensuring which efforts are having the right impact.

Companies that act in support of employees, communities, and consumers typically see a positive lift in their Reputation Scores. And in a time of social, political, and environmental change, saying and doing the right thing can make the difference — stateside and globally.