What’s Up in Social Media with D.: Mixing Business with Politics

white-house-300x188Q: I noticed last week that several companies changed their social media logos to show their support for the Supreme Court ruling on Gay Marriage. When is it ok for a business to express a political opinion?

A: Since the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, the whole country has been talking about this monumental decision. Nowhere is that more evident than on social media. Unless you live under a rock or have sworn off social media (meaning you probably aren’t reading this blog…), your daily life has been filled with rainbow profile pictures, comments from supporters and dissenters alike, videos of celebrations, and both heated and civil debates. You’ve also no doubt seen public statements from large brands and organizations expressing their support of or displeasure with the ruling. Huge brands such as Target, Ben & Jerry’s, and MasterCard were among the many who very publicly supported the ruling via their social media channels. These public displays of political affection led many business owners and marketers to ask themselves the following question: Is it appropriate for me and my organization to publicly support polarized political or social issues? The answer does not come easily, but we have some questions you should ask yourself before posting the new rainbow version of your logo.

• Does the issue have anything to do with your business or brand?

Before filling your feed with tweets of support for an issue, ask yourself if it is at all related to the work that you do or the brand you are trying to build. Do you run a non-profit animal rescue? Then of course you should share about recent updates on BSL legislation. Are you the owner of a gun store? By all means, share your opinion on 2nd amendment issues. These topics are relevant and interesting to your followers. Aside from the actual products or services your company provides, humanizing your brand may be another reason you find it appropriate to communicate your support of an issue. As brands, we want to elicit emotional responses from our clients. One great example is Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. They have consistently addressed the social issue of body distortion in the media to build the caring, supportive brand we all know, even if the issue doesn’t directly relate to soap. Finally, social media managers must be acutely aware of any policies their clients’ companies have about taking positions on political issues. If the brand has a strictly non-partisan stance, then its marketing should reflect that. • Why do you want to take a public stance on this topic?

If you immediately saw dollar signs once you saw the social media explosion of marriage equality support, then stop right now. DO NOT use a social or political issue as a way to increase sales or a cheap publicity boost. Your followers can tell the difference between a heart-felt connection with an issue and a disingenuous marketing ploy, and they will have no problem saying good bye to your brand if they think it is the latter. If the topic truly means something to you on a personal or emotional level, and it aligns with what you are trying to say with your brand, then your followers will respect that. Unless, of course, they disagree with your opinion, which leads us to the next question…

Are you prepared for the backlash that may follow?

With the supporters comes the (almost always vocal) opposition. Not everyone will agree with your stance on a topic, and you need to be prepared for the responses your support (or dissent) will illicit. One trending story about a photographer who lost a client after changing his profile picture shows one example of the response one may get in this situation. Your stance on a topic may alienate a portion of your potential client population, and you may lose current clients, as well. Can your company afford that, and are you ready to respond to an onslaught of Facebook comments and Twitter mentions that are surely to follow?

With much to consider before your company decides to tread in political waters, we leave you with these final tips:

  • Always abide by the Golden Rule. Treat others with respect, especially in regard to potentially sensitive and divisive topics. Once you say something on social media, it never goes away!
  • Use political and social issues as an opportunity to affect positive change on your followers and society. You may have a bigger impact than you realize.
  • Be choosy with the issues you decide to be vocal about. Don’t release statements on every single hot button topic that pops up, or your followers will start to wonder if you honestly care about anything.
  • Follow your heart- cheesy, I know. But if something is truly important to you, and you’ve built a business that reflects who you are as a person, then what’s best for you is probably what’s best for your business.