Words count. Words have meaning. Words on Facebook, Twitter and in the comments section of online publiations are searchable, fully visible, and can define you.

My friend Jayne Navarre at the Virtual Marketing Officer recently wrote this post, Facebook and Politics: Do they mix? Yes, no, maybe? taking on politics on our personal social media accounts.

For the record, I’m in the “maybe” column, as you can see from my comments in Jayne’s post.

As far as I am concerned, it’s not that you are doing it, it’s about how you do it. And here’s why (from Jayne’s post above):

Case on point. I had an opportunity yesterday to refer a professional and I had someone in mind. But, unexpectedly I found a Facebook post from that individual just before I made the call. It was a link to an inciting article, filled with negativity, along side his personal, polarizing comments. I immediately crossed this person off the list. I decided this referral would be wrong for my client—on several levels.

Will it make or break their bottom line, probably not. Still, it made me shiver a bit to realize thata single Facebook post—which is certainly within anyone’s right to free speech—impacted a business opportunity so decisively.

For the most part, people refer business and hire people they know, like and trust. Screw with one of those three and the stream of business you count on to pay your bills and feed your family might start slowing down and you will never know why.

I’m not saying we should never talk about politics. I’m a political junkie, and I enjoy a very thoughtful debate and discussion.

In fact, the sports dude and I had dinner with my sister and her boyfriend last night. It was a libertarian, an independent, and two progressive liberals chatting away. No voices were raised. No one was disrespected. We definitely did not agree on everything discussed. We avoided some topics entirely and on purpose.

We were most definitely spirited and passionate. And that’s the way it should be.

Now you take that “conversation” online, when you are alone, and at your computer, and all sense of decorum seems to get tossed overboard.

You share a meme or a video from a truly biased (right, left or “neutral” until you read the supporters) organization. You comment on that post what you really think. You tweet out a 100 character slam with a couple hashtags.

When you do that, no matter what you share, roughly 50% of the population is not going to agree with you. Add to that mix this truth: You, for the most part, have no idea which of your clients, referral sources, and influencers are in which 50%.

Sitting home alone, you don’t get to see the eye brows raising, the hiding of your posts, the unliking or unfriending of you all together.

A colleague called me last week to brainstorm on a speaker for a program he wanted to host for his firm. Almost in unison we agreed, “Well, you know so-and-so cannot be considered,” based on some online comments and actions.

The person in question just lost the ability to speak to their target audience, and they have NO idea that they were removed from consideration, from a prime opportunity, because of how they conduct themselves online.

I don’t care how locked down you think your Facebook page is, it really isn’t. And I don’t care if you think all of your friends agree with you, because they don’t.

Make no mistake, these things can happen IRL (in real life) as well:

You’re having a private conversation at lunch, and the new general counsel of that company you’re about to meet with later in the day is sitting at the table next to you. He recognizes the person you are talking to, they are acquaintances, which is how his attention made his way to your table and conversation. He is overhearing what you are saying, and he doesn’t like it. You just got bumped off the “go-to” list, and you’ll never understand why.

That’s what sharing an inflammatory meme, video, or article can do. It can show up in someone’s thread because when you share open content, others can see it as well, and can make judgments about you from that. This is often referred to as “listening with your eyes.”

I fully understand that when I comment on CNN’s Reliable Sources Facebook page (my favorite Sunday morning talk show, which I watch with my Twitter Politics List and political hashtags open on my Tweetdeck), everyone can see that, even though my personal Facebook page is closed.

When I share that meme from George Takei, everyone is privy to the fact that I did that.

When I Tweet, and add a hashtag, that is now part of a public conversation and is exposing my words to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people I don’t know.

Any reporter or publication can pick that up and quote me without me knowing about it, until the Google Alert I have set on my name pops up in my reader.

I’m not counseling you to not share or comment on politics, but to be aware of what you are sharing. When you are on a social network, liken it to an IRL open mike, or replying all to everyone at the office when you think you’re not.

Great advice today on CNN’s Reliable Sources from Roll Call’s Associate Politics Editor David Drucker. His comments were in response to the firing of Yahoo! News Washington Bureau Chief, David Chalian, and how reporters need to monitor themselves:

I don’t know how many times per week, I write up an e-mail with a snarky joke to somebody, or a tweet that’s snarky or sarcastic, and then I delete it. Because you have to be careful how your words are going to be interpreted and represented.

Before you hit “post” or “send,” take a look at that snarky e-mail, tweet, post or comment, think about it, and then hit the delete button.

No matter what we do, be it lawyer, legal marketing, consultant, chief, we are representing a brand: be it our firm’s brand, or our personal brand.

It is up to you to manage it.

So, my counsel: Don’t ignore the elections. For the next 60+ days it will be the news around the water cooler. You need to be aware and informed, even if you are not a political junky like me.

However, be respectful of all political opinions. Use judgment. Be observant of the people NOT chiming in on the conversation (those are the people who do not agree with you).

Treat online commentary the same as you would in-person converations. And, remember, you never, ever, ever know who is listening with their eyes.

At the end of the day it always comes back to who do you “know, like, and trust.” We don’t all have to agree politically, but we need to be respectful of differing opinions, as we all have to interact and work together.

Now, go out there and vote early, and vote often.