Corporations Need to Find Their Voices

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Corporations Need to Find Their Voices
Corporations Need to Find Their Voices

While given the name Muslim ban, the executive order is a temporary ban on immigration from seven countries allegedly associated with terrorism, but is viewed by many as a ban aimed at Muslims refugees (which Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani did not dispel). 

Though it was the weekend, many citizens and companies used the executive order to speak up in support or opposition to the order. 

I personally believe this ban to be one of the saddest and wrong moments in recent United States history. It would be impossible for me to ignore my repeated commentary on Twitter and Facebook this weekend, and somehow pretend I feel differently or indifferently on Monday, in my official duty as editorial director of DMN. I do not pretend to know if any colleagues agree with my stance, but I personally strongly condemn both the executive order and its rollout.

Twitter, the ultimate public message board, was filled with people strongly opposing the ban and those supporting it. Many of whom work at companies that are being asked to take a stance. 

But Twitter (and social media) is not a mechanism for people to just shout into the void. Those citizens are using those tools to track and compile lists of what companies did and say. So the reflexive tendency – one that has served companies well for a long time – is to say something bordering on neutral. That “we hear you and we're listening.”

But companies need to realize that the idea that you say something is no longer enough. Saying something mealy-mouthed is as bad as saying nothing at all. 

Both Uber and Tesla found this out this week, connected by the fact that both of their founders are on an advisory committee to the President. 

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick released a statement called “standing up.” 

Few people felt the comments contained within justified such an action-oriented headline. Couple that with Uber's NYC arm announcing the dropping of surge pricing during (or immediately after) the NYC Taxi & Limousine Service's strike plus Lyft making a strong commitment of donations to the ACLU and now you have a “Delete Your Uber account” movement.

What was the reasoning behind that Tweet about surge pricing? It doesn't matter to the people that were deleting their accounts over the weekend. No benefit of doubt was extended, even for a product that many people love. 

An Uber engineer took Kalanick to task. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk's series of Tweets was somehow worse. First, he said

Which seems incredibly milquetoast in response to this EO.

Musk evoked that he could have the President's ear in a follow up.

Trump has made it a priority to recruit business leaders, and business leaders are, by default, interested in being close to the President. What business leaders who wish to court and retain liberal and oppositional customers will stress in these difficult times is that it is important to keep those relationships in order to have the President's ear. This breeds statements like Kalanick's and Musk's, but the public is able to see that through that. The principled stance would be to resign, but it does not look like anyone will do that yet

The public is increasingly politically active and the tools afforded to the public encourage them to express their points of view. Those same tools increase mobilization. It is very apparent that those who oppose President Trump will continue this mobilization. It is also very apparent that President Trump has followers who either believe in his policies or believe it is the prerogative of the executive branch to do what it wants. To that faction, silence is complicity.

Brands will get caught between these factions almost every day and every time they do something. Indeed when they do nothing, the opposition to Trump will view this inaction as collaboration. It will be hard to know who supports what and which side has more consumer power. Weighing these variables in order to make a decision may seem like a hard thing to do. 

It is not. The only thing  -- and the easiest thing – any company has to do is the right thing.

Note: I just wanted to add that in a personal capacity I strongly endorse what Keith says in the third paragraph of this blog--Kim Davis, Executive Editor, DMN.

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