How personal politics affect your business
H. Srikanta
Social media can be a land mine during election season. Everywhere we look people are posting about voting, enemies, and general politics. Opinions seem to come out with force during an election.

I don’t remember politics ever being “mean” like it is now. Conversations meant to “educate” by those who post, often turn into a debate, then arguments, and then insults. Posts innocently meant to educate can quickly isolate, divide, and hurt. And it’s all happening in real time. There is no time to think, cool off, or figure out how to work together.

I have proof social media feeds this frenzy. According to www.statista.com, the numbers of monthly active users on Facebook grew from 145 million in 2008 (the first time President Obama ran for President), to 1.5 billion in 2016.

In 2008, many of us didn’t use Facebook on our mobile devices. Facebook reports the majority of 2016 logins are via mobile device. We now literally have the world at our fingertips.

In short, we have entered into a modern-day Wild West of politics, with virtual mud-slinging, poker faces hidden behind a computer screen, and standoffs happening on a scale we have never seen before.

In 2008, when I joined Facebook, I had maybe 300 friends. Those 300 friends made me feel super popular. Now, in 2016, I have almost 1,300 friends, and a business page that has an audience of about 1,200. That means that, whenever I post on my personal and/or business pages, my outreach can range between 1,300 people to almost 2,500 people directly, and even MORE with viral posts.  Your experiences may be bigger, or smaller, than mine; but regardless, you have probably seen a tremendous growth over the past 8 years between your personal, and business, pages. Our posts can have tremendous impact, whether we know it, or not.

The other day, I was asked why I don’t post much about politics on social media.  Why did they ask me? Well, I am a former staffer on Capitol Hill, with a degree in Political Science, and I helped out on a few major campaigns in the past. I used to negotiate, on a regular basis, with some of the most powerful people on Earth. But you very rarely that side of “me” on Facebook.

The reason why I tell people I don’t post much about my politics: I run a business. Specifically, a photography business that has very little to do with my personal politics.

Yep. I said that correctly: I don’t post about politics often on social media because I run a business. I don’t even post about politics much on my personal page, because I am “friends” with many of my clients. My business can easily become collateral damage to my political opinions. Plus, politics is deeply personal, to me- I don’t need to constantly defend what I believe with people who will never agree with me (or who refuse to learn, or understand, where “the other side” is coming from).

Now, I have some friends who will recoil from this sentence, but here goes: posting about your politics, when you run a business, please be aware of your audience. 

Boom. I said it.

There are a couple of caveats to this statement: those who have politics built deeply into their brand, or people who champion themselves to be marketing to one target audience (and often based on personal, religious, or political beliefs). But, let’s be honest: that’s not most of us. And, since we haven’t yet seen election day this year, we have yet to understand the fallout that our posts can have on our businesses.

For those of you who don’t agree with this statement, please ask yourself: do you serve a niche market that really targets one particular (or a variation of) political person (as in, heavily “Red” or heavily “Blue”)? If so, post away. You probably thought about the repercussions already.

BUT, for most of us, here are some tips that you can think about before you post about politics:

Clients associate you with your politics

Remember that people do associate you with your politics (and they won’t forget after November 8th): Even though you may feel passionate about a candidate, or a stance, or an issue, if it’s polarizing, be very aware of the fallout that may occur. If you are friends with clients, or if you post political stuff on your business page, please know that, statistically, your friends and “like” list is probably varied, politically-speaking. You may have some passionate people to answer to, and defend your stance with. Your clients (and even some of those who are on the “fence”, politically) can also start to judge you, even if your work is stunning. If you want to continue talking politics after the general election, or if you want to purge your friends and “like” list, or run for office, then posting about politics may be a good idea. Otherwise, it can be a nightmarish version of “If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” where the outcome can result in awkward realizations and lost income.

Don’t tempt people to unfollow you

If your opinion is “this is my wall. If you don’t agree with me, unfriend or unfollow me”:  I am one for the freedom of speech; however, I am also one that will tell you that you may have to answer to the repercussions to that same freedom. If people unfriend/unfollow you, from a business perspective, they will essentially “block you out” from your future posts and marketing. People won’t tell you that they unfollowed you…you will just notice that, one day, an awesome client never booked you for their regular mini session. Or, for a wedding. They may not have disagreed with your politics- maybe they are just sick of hearing about them. So, they unfollowed you, and your business.  Soon, they forgot about you, until it’s too late- they missed a mini session opportunity. Or something bigger. You have the right to manage what’s on your wall; and so do your clients. Think about the fact that you may be the one they cut out, too, if they are annoyed by your posts.

You can easily be misunderstood

Remember the old saying “If you don’t have nothin’ nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all?”: As a business owner, you very much do have a public perception of your brand. If you post, or comment, something that could be misunderstood, or misinterpreted by friends or clients, you could lose that friend, client, and future business. Would you normally talk politics in front of these people, or insult groups of people in front of them? Well, when you do that on social media, it is pretty much like professing your deep, dark opinions to friends, clients and strangers.

My old boss always said “If you do something nice for one person, they will tell three. If you tick them off, they will tell nine. You do the math.” For most of us, negative publicity is not good publicity.

Keep public comments civil

If you absolutely, positively, MUST post or comment: Keep it civil. Understand that not everyone will agree with you, and that you don’t have to have the last word. Also, when someone offers a logical differing opinion, treat that opinion with grace and gratitude. You may actually learn something!  One big thing I learned in politics: things don’t change if people don’t “bend” a little and work together. That’s how real differences are made; when people are willing to listen, treat each other with respect, and work together.

Blogging may be a better outlet than social media

If you really must get your opinion out there, you can do so on your blog, or on your website, where clients have to voluntarily go do learn more about you: Your site, and your blog, are your kingdoms. If you feel that passionately about x, y, or z political topic or politician, feel free to direct your friends and clients there for your uncensored opinions! You can blog your heart out about what you want to talk about, and then you can direct more potential new clients (who may also think like you!) to your blog to improve your SEO rankings.

As you navigate through this Wild West of politics on social media, remember that this, too, shall pass. Politicians come and go. Political topics wax and wane. But, if you really want to make a difference, volunteer your time for political organizations and/or really dedicate your time to learn the issues and about who is running for office. Research political topics yourself, learn about both sides, and then you can really vote your conscience (and your business can emerge unharmed)!  Engage in debates, but do them in person, where you can actually actively listen, and discuss, topics that you are passionate about. Remember that politics should be an actual discussion, and not a one-way social media conversation. If you actually make an effort to talk about hot topics, you may be surprised at what you can teach, or learn. Change only happens when both sides are willing to listen, and work together, toward a goal.