Maybe it’s because the world seems to be falling apart at the seams, or I am just noticing it more, but social media tends to be the main outlet for people to vent their personal opinions – political or otherwise. Usually, this is totally acceptable, even encouraged. However, what about people like us who use their social channels as a means to market their business?
I’ll speak from personal experience: In my work, I market to a wide range of people, who almost certainly have a wide array of opinions – many are probably polar opposite of mine. If I were to utilize my social channels, the same social channels I use for content distribution and marketing, for political discourse I would very likely alienate many people – maybe even anger a few.
Here’s an example of how something like this can negatively affect not only you, but the company you work for:
It’s Election Day in your country (let’s say, The United States). You, as the loyal Democrat/Republican that you are, decide to tweet various articles promoting your candidate. This is a particularly divisive election, as the two candidates have very different stances on domestic and foreign policies – one is very liberal, and one quite conservative. Given that your personal Twitter account is often used as a marketing channel, you probably have many followers from all over the world – and from different political backgrounds.
This is where it gets hairy; now you have some of your followers responding positively, as you have posted content that they agree with. However, those other followers, the ones who were following you because of the business related tweets you were making, are now angry about you airing opinions they don’t agree with – and they have no problem letting you know. Now you have follower A. arguing with follower B. about taxes, and you are stuck in the middle. What’s worse, when the elections are over, at least one of those followers will no longer want to follow you, or be interested in the product or service that your company offers.
Whether it’s domestic politics, international conflicts, or anything in between – whatever your opinion is, there is someone out there that not only thinks it’s wrong, but will be upset about it. As a marketer, you might think that using social media as an outlet for your personal opinions, or for constructive discourse, is out of the question.
However, this isn’t entirely true.
Yes, you will need to create some walls around your personal posts so that the wrong people are not confronted with them. This, however, can and is done all the time.
For me, there are aspects of my social activities that are kept out of the public sphere. Facebook, for example, can easily be set to keep your personal posts personal, and business related posts public.
For the sake of brevity, and since I can only relate to them, I will focus on the “big four” social networks: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. While many people utilize Pinterest and Instagram, their standing as a platform for political discourse is still quite small. I’d like to pose for you a few solutions that may help you avoid unnecessary awkwardness, confrontation, and lost business as a result of social posts.
The simplest way to avoid this problem is not utilize your social channels for business use at all. This is not a strategy that I advocate, as there are so many benefits for leveraging power of your social connections for marketing purposes. But, if you are the type of person who cannot keep their opinions to themselves, this might be the best way to go.
One social network, Twitter, makes it virtually impossible for you to make sure only friends see your posts. Twitter’s raison d’être is to allow for public posting, there are no privacy features that could shield the wrong people from seeing what you post. If you are sharing divisive political content, or strong opinions, there is a good chance that potential business prospects will see it. Will they respond negatively? Probably not. However, you run the risk of them not wanting to do business with you.
In my opinion (see what I did there?), there are certain social channels that should never include opinions outside of business – LinkedIn in particular. LinkedIn was built specifically as a business-networking tool. You rarely see people post opinions that are not business related. While they might not consciously be doing it, these people are avoiding the potential discomfort and lost business that could arise from such postings.
Separate Social Profiles
Most of us have different personas when dealing with personal friends and with business connections. As such, creating separate social profiles for these two audiences can help you have the right message go to the right audience. If you have something to say that might be divisive, or something politically charged, keeping those comments to your personal profiles would keep you from alienating certain business prospects.
This strategy can be time consuming. You may find yourself giving preference to one profile over the other. You may find yourself in a situation in which you totally alienate your friends in order to fully focus on your business profiles, or vice versa. You could call this “social media identity crises.”
There are benefits to keeping separate profiles. Many marketers strive to establish a persona; a personality that is specifically geared towards their target market, regardless of how much it represents your actual personality. Does this seem disingenuous? Maybe. But maybe marketing requires you to project an image that is more palatable to your target market.
Don’t Connect on Certain Networks
Not all social networks need to be used for business purposes. Facebook, in particular, often times is kept as a personal channel only visible to friends. Consider what Facebook was initially built for – It was a social network for college kids. Yes, it has changed exponentially, and yes, it is now a great tool for business marketing. But, if there is any social network that you should use (if you so choose) to keep private, it should be Facebook. Facebook’s privacy settings are such that you could block anyone from seeing anything, even if they search your name in Facebook and get to your page – they will just see your name and a picture.
You might even consider using a nickname for your Facebook account so that potential business connections won’t find you. Regarding nicknames, I must add a caveat: Given Facebook’s real name policy, any nickname you add must be as long as they are a variation of your real name (Robert, Bob). There is always the issue of those business connections that straddle the line with personal friends, drawing boundaries can be harder for some people and easy for others.
Relating this to my personal experience, I had my Facebook profile listed under my nickname. I made an effort to limit my connections on Facebook to friends – people I know outside of the marketing world. While this strategy helped me for quite some time, but I recently made the decision to open up a bit. The problem is that most of my friends know me by my nickname, while everyone I know in my professional life know me by “Mark.” I came up with an easy solution – include my nickname as a middle name on Facebook.
Custom Privacy Settings
There seems to be a theme here – Facebook, more than any of the other social networks, is the easiest to keep private. It’s true that LinkedIn is quite a “closed” network, in so far as someone needs to “accept” your request in order for you to see their activities. However, LinkedIn doesn’t apply here because it is inherently focused on business networking, so personal opinions outside of your area of focus need not apply.
As opposed to, say, Twitter, Facebook has a plethora of privacy settings that allow you to pick and choose what type of posts various kinds of connections can see.
Some strategies of this include:
Audience Selector Tool
Public – This setting will allow anyone in the world to see your post/picture. This includes people who don’t have Facebook.
Friends of Friends – You can increase the reach of your posts, but it will still be limited to your friends and their friends.
Friends (plus people who are tagged) – Generally, this is the most popular setting allowing only your personal connections to see your posts.
Only me – I don’t really understand the point of this one, but your posts will only be seen by you in your own newsfeed.
Custom – Here’s the interesting one. This setting will allow you to manually choose who will be able to see your posts, and who will not. Facebook allows you to create “lists” of connections; one option would be to create a “friend” list and a “business” list. When you post something professional, you can share with business (or both), and when you share personal opinions you can share with “friends.”
Keep Politics Out
This seems a bit obvious, but why not try to not share anything about politics (or any other divisive issues)? Yes, it is hard to keep your opinions to yourself, heck I often have this problem myself. But, even when I am posting on my Facebook profile (which I choose, for the most part, to keep private) I often regret posting an overly opinionated post about politics. Even within my group of friends, I often find myself in some pretty heated arguments since I have friends across the political spectrum. I’ll admit it, I have been known to unfriend some people at times – this generally happens in a time of geo-political upheaval.
Notice that throughout this post I haven’t stated any of my personal opinions regarding politics – this was done on purpose. Just like social media, blog posts should generally be benign with regards to political opinions. Obviously, there are marketers who feel differently – but that’s just their opinion.
Walk the Fine Line
Personally, I have a hard time within the grey area of life – this applies to all aspects. However, there are marketers who are better at this than I am. In order to express your personal opinions while still not upsetting people of differing opinions is a balancing act – I wish I could give you solid tips on how to do this, but unfortunately I have failed every attempt. If you have the ability to express your political opinion without creating a divisive atmosphere on your social profiles then more power to you. However, even if you can accomplish this feat, I still council against it.
All in all, we live in a complicated world full of even more complicated people. With the advent of social media, and its evolution into a marketing channel, confrontations regarding political opinions have increased ten fold. This phenomenon presents marketers with a unique dilemma regarding how to use their social channels that are often both personal and business focused.
If this issue is something you have overcome, I would love to get your input on how you did it and what strategies others can use to their own benefit.