Heed these 3 social media lessons in politically-charged times

social media lessons

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I fondly remember pre-2016 when my tweet stream consisted mostly of posts from authors, bloggers, and creative entrepreneurs. Now in 2017, my Twitter follower list still consists of these types, but one major thing has changed.

The newsfeed has become political.

I’ve unfollowed people over the past months because they betrayed the ‘brand promise’ of their social media profiles. Authors and online content creators who I counted on to share messages about their expertise now unleash political rants and controversial statements.

I feel betrayed as their best content gets drowned in the rants. I know I’m not alone. I’ve seen some of their followers expressing frustration and promising to never buy anything from them again.

The creator perhaps just wanted to let off steam, but that short-term rant resulted in the loss of sales, or worse, brand image.

As as an opinionated small online business owner myself, I have learned a lot about these heated and business-damaging interactions.

Below, I want to share the three biggest lessons about navigating your brand in a social media world fired up with political issues…

1) Refrain from impulsive interaction

Corporations tend to have a strict policy on how their brand gets presented on social media channels. Small businesses, especially if they consist of few people, might  share and interact away without such restraint.

And herein lies the great danger.

If you have access to your brand’s social media accounts, it’s tempting to instantly share and reply other people’s updates.

For example, if you see a divisive message rolling up the newsfeed, you might feel the urge to comment straight away. After all, someone is clearly being wrong on the Internet:

What? Person X said Y about THIS issue? (Gotta comment and tell them how wrong they are.)

That’s so wrong, let me tell you why… (Make a thread of multiple messages. That will show ‘em!)

And so on.

It’s all about impulse control. With the real-time updates of social media, we’ve been conditioned to check and reply instantly, that’s why you have to think before you interact.

Wait at least 1 or 2 seconds and ask yourself—is what you’re about to write really worth it?

Training yourself to be more mindful and WAIT before you reply/share/tweet is the best medicine against impulsive interaction that can result in business damage. You are what you tweet.

2) Know your social media account’s purpose

Create separate social media accounts for your private and business goals, and/or determine the goals of your platform.

I use Instagram and Twitter mostly for business. I treat my Instagram feed as an extended portfolio, where I share my client illustrations, my artwork, and self-published sci-fi books. You don’t see any sunsets, yoga poses or food pics or political quotations. That would smudge the purpose—to advertise my ‘products’ and snap new clients.

Facebook, on the other hand, is mostly used for personal stuff: my travel pics, my updates and the occasional post I’ve written. Since I’m mostly using the personal account, the people who watch my updates will be my friendlies, and not (potential) clients.

That strategy becomes even more important if you’re the employee.

If you’re working for a company but use a personal account, make it clear that your political views don’t represent your company’s view. On Twitter profiles, I often see the ‘Tweets/views are my own” statement.

Also, and this is related to the impulsive sharing point above, stop and think about the ramifications before you post a (strong) opinion: how will this message or share affect your company’s reputation? Will it hurt it?

Depending on your employer, you can also get fired for violating a company’s policy.

So figure the purpose of your social media account and separate between personal or business accounts. Declare your views in the profile, so potential followers know what to expect.

3) Be willing to pay the price

Best-selling authors like Brandon Sanderson and Jim Butcher refrain from being political or posting strong opinions on their social media accounts. In fact, Sanderson once revealed that an author he knew lost big sales due to his openly expressed political opinions. That person had deterred a significant amount of his former audience. A price Sanderson and Butcher didn’t want to pay.

Now for some entrepreneurs and creators, that’s the intended effect. They say outrageous and controversial things because they only want to attract customers who share the same mindset. If your brand is connected to politics, that might be a viable strategy. Passionate (not to say: fanatical) niche groups tend to buy more.

But if your brand or product is not political, you want to stay away from rants.

There’s no right or wrong here; it comes down to your priorities—are you willing to lose a (significant) amount of customers because of your political views?

Famous Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams once had a lucrative speaking business. When he started talking extensively about Trump on his social media channels, Scott lost all of his speaking gigs due to his controversial statements.

Strong opinions also attract trolls from the opposite spectrum, creating a newsfeed of fire. I’ve seen hostile comments on author blogs with controversial content. They also receive more 1 star reviews for their books, where the reviewer openly expresses his disagreement with the author’s strong point of view.

The fire starter burns by the flames he had ignited.

Another downside is that strong opinions come across as aggressive, especially in the written form. A simple written statement such as “I completely disagree” carries a waft of aggression online. The same sentence can sound innocuous in a real-life conversation, where nuance, gestures, and attitude come into play.

Remember, everything you publish online stays online, even if you delete it yourself. The more business you want to attract, the less politically inciting you want to come across.

Conclusion

It all comes down to your priorities. If you don’t care about deterring customers, share and express whatever you want. But if you want to make more sales, you should consider using different accounts and being more strategic about how, and what, you share.

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at marsdorian.com and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian
Original illustration by the author.

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