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Is Your Business Unknowingly Taking Sides On Social Issues or Politics?

Here there be trolls

Why Should Small Business and Non-Profits Watch Social and Political Comments Closely

Everyone has an opinion. Few things have empowered expressing our opinions as much as social media and the web. With just a few taps of our phones, a couple clicks on a mouse, or even changing a profile picture, we announce to the world our stances on a host of social, economic, and political topics. It’s not contained by “business versus personal” accounts, but represented by each of your team. The question is: can it hurt your business or organization? In a word—YES.

Social media “activism” has spawned a whole new level of divisiveness on the web. Without the repercussions of physically facing or communicating directly with people and the false sense of “harmless” ease which updates can be made, social media has become a vast no man’s land of “if you’re not for us, you’re against us” sentiments. Like it or not, even your fledgling Facebook business page is smack in the center of the battlefield.

You Don’t Have A Social Media Audience. You Are Part Of A Community.

While some refer to the fans, followers, and social media connections as an audience, nothing is further from the truth. The term audience gives an impression that those connected with your business or organization are simply hanging on every word or update. Nope. The people who have chosen to connect with you are busy living their lives and will only pay attention if something really intriguing happens. A more accurate term for your social media connections is your community.

The concept of an audience implies a passive situation. A gathered group of individuals sitting idly by while your business or organization blasts messages out for them to simply sit and receive. Nothing is further from the truth. Your community is active. They are sharing, commenting, connecting, and moving in countless directions.

Having a community means your posts or updates might reach them (if you time it right), might get their attention, and just maybe motivate them into a positive response. However, positive responses are mis-measured as increased follower numbers, Likes, comments, or even shares. The true measure of a great community is engagement or the ongoing conversations and conversions into actual business.

As with most other businesses and organizations, social topics and politics are not the reasons for having a social media presence. You’re there to increase business, awareness, or donations. It’s that simple. However, our communities are there to share experiences and socialize with people of similar interests. Communities accept businesses and organizations as providers or facilitators to their experience.

Even The “Safest” Of Topics Can Polarize Your Community

RowlingDignityMany are unaware that Scotland is preparing for a public referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom to become an independent nation. As you can imagine, tempers run hot on both sides of the discussion. So much so that in response to Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s £1 million donation to the pro-Union side, Scottish charity The Dignity Project fired off an abusive tweet. While The Dignity Project claimed their main Twitter account was hacked (but cannot prove it), the damage had been done.

marriage equality tweets that could've backfired
Tweets from a tourism destination that could’ve backfired. What some call the safest topics to comment on may inflame a segment of your community. Weigh your options before tweeting on news events.

Not all situations are so clear. Whether the topic is as clear as supporting military servicemen and servicewomen or as divided as a polarizing national referendum, the slightest misstep in the eyes of the community will have disastrous consequences. For the same reasons as above, individuals who accept businesses and organizations into their community assume all will have the exact same belief system and views.

Just as Scotland faces a critical referendum this fall, we in the United States are in the throes of an election year. Highly controversial topics ranging from health care to immigration reform are dominating the political landscape. As the “voice” of your business and organization, navigating through the political landscape will be nothing short of working your way across a minefield. Move carefully and be sure of your footing.

Three Things To Remember About Your Social Media

Know your community. As much as we all want to be seen as the authority or the trusted expert in our circles, it is important to know businesses and organizations are guests in the community. Unless it directly impacts your community, stay away from politics and social issues. For communities that do have politics or social issues directly impacting the core of the community, make sure you know your position, speak with facts and not emotions, and are willing to accept the consequences of your stance. Remember that freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences.

Keep both hands on the wheel. It might be tempting to give the social media keys to the clever intern who rocks Instagram, but controlling your brand voice must be paramount. While being conversational it is easy to get drawn into discussions. Don’t. Keep your posts focused on being helpful/useful to your community. Make sure ventures into political or social statements are community-sensitive and agreed upon “up the chain of command.” If there is a backlash, then everyone within the business or organization is up to speed.

Don’t promote yourself by jumping into news unless the news is about you or your community. The process is called “newsjacking,” a term coined by David Meerman Scott, and while Mr. Scott promotes injecting brands into news stories, it rarely has the desired effect. In fact, some of the most spectacular social media failures have surrounded businesses that have tried jumping onto hashtags or discussions prior to fully understanding the story.

In 2011, Kenneth Cole didn’t understand the scope of the Arab Spring uprisings in Cairo, Egypt and tweeted the commotion was in relation to their spring clothing line. In 2012, Celeb Boutique (a young women’s clothing provider) inadvertently jumped into the #aurora hashtag since it shared the same name as one of their new dresses. Sadly, the #aurora hashtag was following the mass shooting in the Aurora, CO movie theater. To borrow a phrase, “don’t be that person.”

Almost every business or organization will be impacted by social or political news. Understanding when and how to engage on social media is critical. Even in some of the smallest, niche communities there are differences of opinion. Often the disagreements are focused on very community-related topics and are discussed in loving, respectful detail. However, throw in politics, religion, or social topics and you may find yourself in a very confrontational situation. Keep your community relationship in the forefront of your social media. Keep the mantra of “be helpful” as a guiding principle and your social media should steer clear of many pitfalls.