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These days, it’s a very urgent question: as a business owner, do you have more to gain or more to lose by taking a political stand on social media?

New data from a Sprout Social survey of 1,000 consumers turned up some fascinating insights:

  • Two-thirds of respondents said they wanted companies to take a stand on political issues.
  • 58 percent wanted them to do so on social media.
  • The desire for brands to speak out on political matters was roughly split along political lines:
    • More than three-quarters of respondents who identified as liberal said they wanted companies to take a stand.
    • Just 52 percent of self-identified conservatives thought they should.
  • 82 percent of liberals thought companies were credible when the expressed political opinions, while just 46 percent of conservatives did.

So, should you share your views, or keep them to yourself? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

5 Powerful Reasons Not To Talk Politics

  1. You (and your opinions) are your business.
    If you’re a small-business owner, you are your business are one and the same in most people’s eyes. When you share your thoughts in a public forum, it can damage your business by highlighting an ideological divide between you and your potential clients.

    If you have employees, make sure you have a concrete social-media policy in place. The public will also see their opinions as an extension of your brand.

  2. It can affect your ability to collaborate or hire the best talent.
    What if you have strong beliefs that differ from your prospective employees or collaboration partners? Your political opinions may make it difficult to hire and retain the best people. Worse, they may interpret your beliefs as personal attacks, even when nothing could be further from the truth.
  3. The internet has a very long memory.
    Yelp is a great example of how long it can take to rehabilitate your online image once it’s been damaged. Several catering companies and bakeries who publicly stated they wouldn’t serve LGBT weddings, for example, are still wading through all the 1-star reviews from angry internet users who wanted to make a statement.

    Only the owners of these establishments can really say whether publicly stating their opinions was ultimately worth it. While it’s certainly possible to remove some of these Yelp reviews, there’s still a long history online that could affect business down the road.

  4. You may alienate potential customers.
    Simply put: stating your opinion on divisive issues may cost you clients and customers. On the other hand, you may also build a powerful niche following.

    Be sure to weigh the likelihood of these outcomes carefully.

  5. Your words may be misunderstood.
    Many internet users consume content in a bite-sized format, and more nuanced expressions of opinion are easily misinterpreted, misunderstood and somehow framed in a way that you hadn’t intended at all. Proceed with caution! 

Still Can’t Resist Talking Politics? 5 Tips To Keep In Mind.

Maybe after carefully weighing the risks and potential rewards, you’ll decide you do indeed feel strongly enough about publicly supporting a political issue or candidate.

One option is to include a simple statement such as, “Jane Smith’s Company is proud to support John Jones for president.”

Itching to say more? Be sure to remember:

  1. Skip name-calling of any kind.

Avoid calling a candidate, (or someone who supports him) any negative term. Talk about politicians and issues you do like and support, instead.

  1. Stay humble.

Approach social media with the mindset that you’d love to learn what other people think or feel about an issue.

  1. Don’t argue.

With emotions running high and the (relative) anonymity the internet provides, well-intended discussions can quickly spiral out of control. You can unintentionally come across as ignorant or arrogant to potential clients. Your best bet is to never argue – always take the high road.

  1. Share articles or posts from trusted news sources.

This empowers your friends and followers to read more and decide about complex issues for themselves.

  1. Never tell people what to think.

This one can be tough! Rather than being the one to inform others about what to think, simply share facts (just make sure you check your facts first!). When we learn from each other, everyone can make informed, intelligent decisions when it comes to politics.

In Practice, “Free Speech” Is Different For Business Owners

In theory, we all love the concept of free speech, and the idea of being allowed to express thoughts and feelings that other people might disagree with. But in practice, it can certainly feel as though the masses are not in support of this philosophy and will take offense.

Even when you have strong feelings about politics, be sure to consider the risks and rewards of sharing them.