At its core, social media is a community forum, designed to foster interaction between individuals through the internet. Simply put, social media connects people.
As social media has grown, so too has its ability to connect people. It has now grown to a point where it is safe to say that it is the best way to connect. This is why your company has a Facebook page. This is why you publish photos on Instagram. This is why you Tweet interesting insights. Your presence on social media allows users to gain familiarity with your company, interact with your business, and, ideally, develop loyalty to your brand.
Because of its power to connect people, social media has become an incredibly powerful means of disseminating information. Facebook and Twitter both allow users to attach hyperlinks to posts, and statistics show that posts with high-quality links get higher user interaction.
What happens when there are over 1.86 billion users on a social media platform that encourages users to share information via hyperlinks?
If you’ve logged onto your social media account in the past year, you are sure to see the answer. Of the top 20 posts in your newsfeed, how many link to an online news source? With the exception of posts regarding the new Star Wars trailer (it's not everyday that Disney drops a Star Wars trailer), over half of the most recent 20 posts in my newsfeed link to an online news source. There is a very clear correlation between the rise of social media and the rise of online journalism.
Let’s examine the subject of these online news articles. Take a look at your Twitter or Facebook Newsfeed, and scroll through the first 20 posts. How many are related to politics? On my Facebook Newsfeed, 8 were related to politics. That’s 40 percent!
Before I continue, let’s take a minute to establish a little common ground. Can we all agree, regardless of political affiliation, that the current political landscape is not only tumultuous, but also extremely divided? The rest of this piece will be based on that assumption.
Here is a simple equation: take the rise in online journalism, add social media platforms that encourage this information’s dissemination, and, finally, add a volatile political landscape to the equation. What do we get? The answer can be summed up in a single word: chaos.
What does this mean for your business’s social media presence? Well, the answer to that is complicated. To help you get a sense of how to address the current political arena, I've answered some frequently asked questions regarding posting about politics.
Should I censor my opinions?
No. This is America. Freedom of speech is one of the values we hold most dear and no one should feel their voice is held hostage due to commenters. So, how should you navigate this terrain? Try to find some common ground. For example, the reason why our nation is so divided is because we all love our country. While there are definitely differing opinions on what exactly that means, there is still that commonality of love for America. Focus on that. A post that is genuine and unites people is good for your brand and, more importantly, has the potential to bridge divides between people.
Should I take a political stance that's relevant to my brand?
This is an interesting question. I will say that infusing your political ideology into your brand's voice can be done, but it is a fine line to walk. If you feel that you must, make sure it is genuine.
A number of brands have stepped into the political conversation with pointed ads that make a clear statement. A good example of this is Budweiser's ad for this year's Super Bowl. Whether or not you agree with the message of the ad, we can all agree that this commercial makes a clear statement. It is a full commitment. This advertisement was met with a resounding cheer from those who agree with its political insinuations, which was the desired goal. It was also met with the threat of a brand boycott from those who disagree with the message of the ad: the consequence of taking a stand. One must weigh the pros and cons of a message like this prior to taking a stand with a brand's voice.
On the flip side of this coin is the most recent ad from Pepsi, the now infamous "Kylie Jenner Pepsi Ad." This ad sought to capitalize on the popularity of one movement while attempting to remain neutral on a divisive topic. The result was a commercial with a message no one could really decipher. Instead of appealing to all people, it fell flat, enraged just about everyone, and was pulled by the company. In short, if you enter into rocky terrain, do so purposefully and with a clear course.
If there is one takeaway I'd like to provide to those responsible for the social media accounts of a brand, it is this: be deliberate. This goes for all posts, not just politically motivated ones. You have put a lot of effort into creating a voice for your business. If you decide to change course, make sure it is a well thought out decision.