From my September column in the Kitsap Business Journal….
It’s September and we are heading down the backstretch of this political season. For business people, this means you are entering a danger zone.
Fear not, I am NOT the political pundit this month. Far from it. But, I am here to warn you of the dangers of “mouthing off” with a click of a “post.” The consequences could cost you business.
Let me preface by saying that I have no problem with business people supporting a candidate or a cause. You have every right to voice your opinion and advocate whatever positions you like. That doesn’t mean you should be a social media bully.
In an era where Facebook and Twitter send your sound bytes viral in milliseconds, you may find yourself wishing you could turn back time and control your finger. Your clients and prospects may solely be on Facebook for fun. In fact, the odds say that they are.
With that in mind, I present to you Dan’s 10 Rules for Surviving the Political Season:
Tip #1 — Proofread your posts. Don’t write your last line; click send; and walk away feeling triumphant. You probably aren’t. If you’re angry or agitated, you probably wrote something you shouldn’t have.
Tip #2 — Avoid “fighting words.” It never ceases to amaze me what people will say when they don’t have to say it to your face. Case study — I had a “friend” write on a Facebook post that people with a certain line of thinking were “knuckle draggers and crack pots.” This was the husband of someone I sent business to! If you’re using verbiage like this to attract attention, be careful what attention you will get.
Tip #3 — Avoid using “labels.” Liberals, Democrats, Conservatives, Republicans, Tea Partiers, whatever. By lumping them all together, you may include people you don’t want to. Some of those may even be your clients! Many Facebook “posters” are notorious for lumping in outliers by enlarging their demographics through generalities.
Tip #4 — Don’t enter into a war of words online. I’ve been guilty of this myself. No good can come from it. Either back off, or pick up the phone and call. If you don’t know the person well enough to call, then why do you even care?
Tip #5 — Beware of Pinterest. I know it’s the new hot craze. You can’t go through Facebook without seeing a gazillion posters (90 percent are absurd, based on my personal scientific study). When you start posting these things, people will assume you are fully supportive of the meaning. The problem is that the meaning may not be all so clear.
Tip #6 — Don’t take things personally. People have different opinions. It’s still okay to have them as friends or do business with them. There is a direct correlation where the less fighting words are used, the less likely someone will take something personally. Just saying…
Tip #7 — Don’t be angry. Anger usually leads to rash judgments, vitriolic posts and hurt feelings. Do you really want to hurt your potential customers’ (as well as current customers’) feelings? Anger tends to subside quickly; hurt feelings not so much.
Tip #8 — Be open to learn. When positions are cited without rancor or mean-spiritedness, I feel I can actually learn something new. I may not ultimately agree, but I am happy for the discourse and opportunity to grow.
Tip #9 — Have some perspective. These elections will all be over in a few months and the winners and losers will all go their own ways. Your words may linger on forever with those who read them.
Tip #10 — Don’t engage in political debate on social media. This will save you from yourself. Social media has the ability to take your position, inflate it past what it really is, attach a really mean voice, and shout it to the world. If you’re in business, the only thing you want shouted to the world is how you can help them, not whether you favor donkeys or elephants!
Bonus — A really large majority of Facebook “posters” aren’t in business. They have nothing to lose. They can break all my rules and be no worse for wear. If you get into battles with them, your posts are available for all your community to see (you knew that, right?). You may be slinging mud at your brother-in-law in Hoboken, but your best client may read it.
I’m not perfect. I’ve broken a few of my rules over the years (how do you think I thought of them?). I can tell you that as things get heated up, I will keep my opinions off the Facebook news feed. You and I may chat about them over a cold beer, but you won’t be “liking” or seething from them online.
My recommendation to you as a business professional is that you adhere to my rules, focus on building your business, and dodge the mud!
Dan Weedin is a Poulsbo-based management consultant, speaker and mentor. He leads an executive peer-to-peer group in Kitsap County where he helps executives improve personally, professionally and organizationally by enhancing leadership skills. He is one of only 35 consultants in the world to be accredited as an Alan Weiss Master Mentor. You can reach Dan at 360-697-1058; email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.danweedin.com.
© 2012 Dan Weedin. All Rights Reserved