As we’ve all experienced at family gatherings, people react strongly when politics are brought into the conversation. Our political beliefs are often a major part of our identity, leading us to trust or turn against others depending on whether they agree with us or not. These kinds of extremes typically scare companies—particularly small companies with a lot to lose—from expressing any political opinions online.
At the same time, anyone who knows anything about content marketing strategy realizes the importance of creating content that people care about. Stating your company’s political opinion on a current event is an easy way to create this kind of content. So when does the opportunity to influence your target audience outweigh the risk of driving customers away?
While avoiding politics is the safer option, brands can easily get lost in the crowd of other companies who offer the same everyday content that you do. There are dangers that come from taking a side on anything, but if you express your company’s political opinion correctly, you can become a real leader in your community.
The Spectrum of Political Branding
Not all political stances risk your company getting tar and feathered by your community. Understanding what you risk with each opinion will help predict whether your piece positively or negatively affects your brand. Generally, political opinions fall into one of the following categories:
- Low risk
- Medium risk
- High risk
Low Risk: Jumping on the Band Wagon
There are certain stances that are of little to no threat to your company’s name. These “political fads” are often widespread across your industry already.
What’s the Risk?
Sometimes, not expressing a low-risk political opinion is the biggest risk. If your competitors are sharing them and you aren’t, you’ll seem outdated. That said, you still need to express them correctly. Otherwise, it may seem like you’re only interested in following a fad instead of genuinely caring about the issue. If your company embraces a political issue—low risk or not—make sure it also takes action to support that opinion.
For instance, “going green” is a relatively safe political stance for most companies to take. Even if your customers don’t agree with or care about environmental issues, green initiatives often provide financial incentives. We aren’t in the same recession we were in five years ago, but people are still concerned with saving money.
Low risk stances like these can often be incorporated into broader mission statements on your “About Us” page or smaller blogs. By expressing a low risk political opinion this way, visitors can easily find out where you stand on the most basic issues.
Medium Risk: Raising Awareness
Expressing political opinions that pose a “medium risk” to your company can be the most rewarding strategies when done right. While not as common place as low risk stances, these current events strongly effect your:
- Specific industry
- Current customers
- Broader target audience
Be sure that your company’s political stance supports the best interests of all three.
What’s the Risk?
Medium-risk opinions may upset people outside your industry and customer base. This tension can cause you to lose favor with people who didn’t previously mind your company’s existence. You may appear to lose at first, but when written and publicized correctly, your following will most likely be stronger than it was before. By supporting your community’s interests, they will see your brand as an industry leader.
For instance, net neutrality was a medium-risk issue that strongly effected jWeb’s industry, customers, and target audience. Many of our clients compete for similar customers online and rely on net neutrality to stay competitive. However, internet companies and their supporting parties were fighting against net neutrality and our interests. So even though our stance didn’t please everyone, it was still in our best interest to stand up for our company and community by raising awareness about the issue.
High Risk: Taking a stand
The most important rule of thumb with high-risk blogs is knowing the difference between your political opinions and your company’s. Very often, high risk opinions are personal because they hardly ever reflect all the opinions of people in your company. If the views do not reflect your company, don’t post them on the company’s website or social media pages. Posting personal opinions can isolate your customers and potentially destroy your brands on- and offline reputation.
What’s the Risk?
A lot of fatalities can result from sharing a high-risk political opinion in the wrong way, but it is not necessarily a lose-lose situation. Often, there are safer ways for your company to stand up for what it believes in than blatantly stating it to the public in a blog or landing page. Current events are usually hot topics based on larger, lower risk issues.
For instance, last year one of the most heated controversies revolved around the Gamergate debate, which dealt with a group of gamers attacking women in the industry for sexist or ethics-in-journalism reasons. Everything from forum rants to death threats to television specials were dealt out over the following months and (not surprisingly) most companies in the gaming industry avoided the conversation altogether. Those who did found themselves in a complicated limbo between both sides of the issue.
Now, say you want to write a blog on your stance on Gamergate. Rather than come at your audience bluntly, think about why the issue matters to you and your company. Here are some examples:
- Interview or share content about women in technology
- Discuss what “ethics” alludes to in journalism
- Update your mission statement to reflect the importance of diversity, respect, and understanding in your industry
- Do a study on the effects of online harassment
These responses not only support the medium-risk opinions behind high-risk stances, but they can lead to proactively productive movements in the right direction.
Connecting the Dots
What do all these political stances have in common? They closely affect your company, brand, employees, and customers. Therefore, there are some basic dos and don’ts to follow, regardless of how risky your company’s political opinion is.