Check any social media website and you’re sure to run into politically charged posts taking up one side or another. With last week’s election, you may even see your favorite company publicly endorsing their presidential candidate of choice.
Businesses have long held the belief that business and politics don’t mix. Whether it’s the worry of potential losses to the revenue stream or potential damage to the reputation of a brand, businesses have tried to remain neutral when speaking about hot political topics.
A 2014 Global Strategy Group study found that 56% of Americans believe businesses should stand up for their beliefs, regardless of potential controversy. But what factors should you take into consideration before letting your opinions go public?
Could you alienate some of your clients?
Whether it’s immigration, tax reform, or Obamacare, as an individual, you most likely have an opinion, but should your business reflect those ideals? No matter the issue or stance, your opinion will not resonate with every client.
With such emotionally charged issues, your opposing stance may offend a portion of your current or potential clients, causing them to cease business with you. The danger here is that not only could that cause future clients to ignore your business, but you may find your current client list looking for ways to dissolve your partnership.
Will the reputation of your business be at stake?
Ask any experienced business owner and they’ll likely tell you the reputation of your business is the most vital asset you have. Once it’s damaged, it can take years to recover, if recovery is even possible.
Knowing your audience is key in these situations. An easy way to know your audience is by regularly interacting with them either by direct check ups, or by social media interaction. You may know that the overwhelming majority of your audience will side with you, but if you think your audience is divided on many issues, it may be a good idea to keep that post to yourself.
Could the message be misinterpreted?
Tone, context, and intention are some of the most critical pieces of communication that tend to get easily lost in text form, leading to more frequent instances of misinterpretation.
Often times, taking a political stance stems from your personal emotions surrounding the subject. While displaying your humanity on behalf of your business isn’t always a bad thing, before hitting “submit,” you’ll want to consider whether or not those emotions can be easily conveyed without the assistance of traditional communication tools.
Are you drawing attention to an issue that could improve business?
When proposed legislation directly affects your business, it affects your customers. From less controversial laws like ones requiring stricter regulations around employees using their own technology for work, to highly controversial debates on health care reform, when laws can force your company to change the way you do business, it may be okay to make your current and potential clients aware of these changes.
Take Apple Inc., for example. Earlier this year, they engaged in a very public dispute with the FBI over user encryption. As a leader in technology, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook spoke out about why they felt a duty to their current and future customers to protect their privacy. "We did not expect to be in this position, at odds with our own government, but we believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and your privacy.”
Social media gives you access to the ear of the world. While business and politics don’t have to be oil and water, remembering to take the time to consider the potential ramifications of engaging in political discussion on behalf of your business can save the good reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.