I can’t believe I have to say this again: Politics, social networking and business development DON’T MIX!! Never. Ever. Ever. I don’t care if you’re talking about saving puppies and unicorns, I caution you to self-edit what you say on Facebook, Twitter, or even on locked-down message boards. Why? According to the latest Gallup Poll on Party Affiliation this country is pretty evenly spit politically. What does this mean?? It means that anytime you mention politics in a social media or networking environment you risk alienating 46-54% of your target market, and you might never know it. I’m talking about, oh, you know, your clients, your potential clients, your referral sources, your influencers, your employers, potential employers, conference organizers, reporters, etc. Why do people continue to do this?? According to Jayne Navarre, it sometimes comes down to what might be a false sense of “trust” earned:

The social media space, in many regards, is a fertile ground for influencers and trust agents, however they must earn it. (skip) [Jayne believes that one earns that positioning] not by broadcasting (shouting) antagonistic messages, but rather through thoughtful contribution and community appropriate discussions.

Am I saying not to discuss politics and other “controversial” issues within your personal and professional (social) networks. No. You just need to do it one-on-one and discretely with people you know share your thoughts and opinions. Let’s bring it back to “real world” situations, such as around the water cooler at work. I have many a time been chatting politics with like-minded colleagues to see someone quietly and uncomfortably grab a cup of coffee or glass of water and walk away. We know that they do not agree with our political points. But in this scenario, we can see the non-verbal clues that let us know what actions to take to remedy the situation. At a cocktail party or reception it is easy to see your prospect “check out” when the conversation turns passionate and heated. You might see a client stand up to “get a drink” and never come back. Lesson learned. At the recent LMA conference, I saw people get up and walk out of the conference hall when the key-note speaker introduced the “non-political” topic of global warming. The displeasure of this group also made it onto Twitter in direct messages with like-minded colleagues, and via the conference hashtag. I was amazed at how many people thought those offended were being too “sensitive,” since “he didn’t offend me.” I would caution you to always keep in mind these unique challenges when it comes to politics and social networking:

  • You cannot see the faces of those you have offended, and therefore apologize or alter the direction of the conversation.
  • You will never know that you have lost your position of “influencer” or “trust agent.”
  • Once you post something within a social media or networking environment, it is there forever. You cannot take it back or erase it.

Jayne’s personal experiences sum things  up well for the point of this discussion, as well as provides constructive advice:

Finally, while Facebook is a more casual environment and there are many opportunities to speak out on your political positions, anyone that does so should understand that there are consequences. In my network some Friends are passionate about their politics but deliver their messages privately to their appropriate Lists or specific individuals. On the other hand, I have some attorney “Friends” in my network who wear their political passions on their sleeve and whether I agree with them or not, it is offensive to me. Further, they have no clue who they are offending, and maybe that’s their point. When Facebook comments appear on my wall that offend me, I immediately “LIST” that person to my “Limited View” List which has very tight settings. If they do that on Twitter, I dump em.

Personally, I think twice (or ten times) before I reply to a political thread on Facebook or Twitter. Many time I have really debated whether or not to become a fan of someone, or join a political group. If I decide to fan or join the group,  because I really want to follow the message, I will often times immediately delete the “activity” from my Wall. As for adding my voice to a political discussion, there are times that I will do so privately, or, when on a public wall, I will always maintain my respect for the other side’s position, and make certain that I stick to facts, avoiding passionate rhetoric or attacks. What I have found is that I am able to have these types of conversations with friends from “across the aisle” which allow us to deepen our relationships, without alienation. All of this being said, “You should not be allowed to claim diplomatic immunity when you’re a low-level a** hole.”