In a day and age where everyone takes their opinions as facts, and rampant political arguments populate social media it always comes as a shock to me when friends or clients ask if their business should be engaging in political discussions or back a particular candidate. The simple answer is always, "no."
"But what about for local elections?" They ask, "My friend is running for county commissioner."
I get it. Most of us, at one time or another, have been faced with the dilemma of having a friend or relative running for political office. The assumption is that you are going to show support and vote for them, whether you agree or disagree with their platform. Worse yet, is when they ask your business to endorse them.
So here is the real question: does your business have more to gain or more to lose by taking a political stand? It's debatable. There are some statistics on the subject, Twenty-eight percent of said they'd publicly praise a company if they agreed with its opinions while only 20 percent said they'd publicly criticize one they disagreed with. On the other hand, only 44 percent said they'd buy more from a company they agreed with while 53 percent would buy less from a company whose views they didn't share. And 33 percent said they'd boycott such a company.
In other words, it is risky.
So what should you do if you are set on involving your business politically?
Staying out of it may be best if you're not fiscally prepared for backlash.
Speaking out politically comes with more risk for a small company than a large one. Small companies don't have the financial, legal, or public relations resources of larger companies. One risky statement can be the end of a small business. The best approach is to make thoughtful choices about when to speak up and when not to. A little bit of political speech can go a long way.
You may be tempted to come out with a statement that will let people know who you are and what you stand for. Before you do, listen to what your customers, employees, and the members of your community have to say. Monitor social media where these constituents are discussing the issues that matter most to them. That may help you decide which point or issues to speak up about, and help prepare you if your stance will be controversial or unpopular.
Pick points, not parties.
Even if you identify as a Democrat or Republican, a Conservative or Liberal, chances are you don't agree with every position your party of choice takes. So why restrict yourself to the opinions of a single group? "Instead of bleeding red or blue, pick points that are important to your community. We NEVER recommend commenting or getting your business embroiled in matters of national politics. If it's presidential, leave it alone. Local or state level is much less risky in general.
Choose issues that matter to your constituents not just you.
Are tax cuts helping your business? Will planned redevelopment in your area make it easier or harder to work there? Is growing crime making your employees feel unsafe when they head home at the end of the day? All these things are issues that directly affect your business or its community, and they're the best issues to take a stand on.
You're most likely to be taken seriously when the issue you're addressing hits close to home. People tend to believe a brand's political stance about issues that affect its customers, employees, and the business itself.
Be ready for the backlash, but hope for support.
People may disagree with you very loudly. They may also agree, but it is usually on a much more quiet scale. You should have a strategy in place to respond to both supportive and critical responses. The way you respond is critical. You may come under more scrutiny for your responses than you do your initial posts. This is one of the many pitfalls of politics on the internet. Do some homework and be ready with some information from credible sources to back up what you've said. Let me say that again, and emphasize the credible part. If you can only find a blog post of Reddit share backing up your position, it may be best to keep that to yourself.
Pick something that matters to you.
You're better off saying nothing than saying something you don't fully believe. So be sincere and genuine. Remember that what you say--and do--today may be remembered for a long time to come. For local businesses, in particular, taking a stand on issues facing the city or region you serve is an opportunity to grow deeper roots and a reputation as a leader within the community. Businesses that are committed to speaking out based on their values--and that have a track record of acting accordingly--will be able to take a stronger, more credible stance that has greater potential to resonate with their audience.
While these are all directed to businesses, it is important to remember that you and your employees are ambassadors for your business. Bold and divisive public political stances could reflect on your business, whether you want them to or not.
If all else fails, keep your political beliefs off social media.