How to win enemies and influence no one in social media

In an age of identity politics and divisive rhetoric, it’s become easier than ever to turn off potential customers from your brand. Should you avoid it or embrace it?

Public Discourse

It’s virtually impossible to get on Twitter or Facebook today and not see a political post in the news feed. Sometimes it’s a tweet about something you agree with, and it makes you feel empowered. While other times it’s a Facebook post that someone you are politically aligned with has shared that makes you mad. Those situations are easy to navigate. You might choose to Like the tweet, apply the Anger reaction to the post, or ignore it and move on.

It gets a lot more complicated when you see a divisive post you don’t agree with, and it’s from a friend, an industry leader, or a company you like. Do you ignore it and hope they stop publishing similar posts? Do you mute them? Do you go into complete flame mode and tell them all the reasons why they’re wrong? Do you unfollow or unfriend them?

How you respond can become even more vexing depending on who it is. For example, the person publishing the post may be a colleague or someone you see at conferences on a regular basis. Even more conflicting, they might be a longtime friend or close acquaintance, and you don’t want to sever your online relationship with them.

Regardless of the action or inaction, you choose, when people post divisive posts that are not aligned with your ideology, it creates a negative experience. And if you feel that way about their posts, imagine how they feel about your equally divisive posts.

Rage against the machine

It is a daily struggle not to post how I feel about things on Twitter and Facebook. The number of unpublished posts and replies I’ve abandoned and posts I’ve quickly deleted is comical. Based on conversations I’ve had with other people, I know I’m not alone in that behavior. While it’s not a problem for most people, it is for digital marketers and entrepreneurs.

For most of us, our social profiles represent more than who we are. They represent a personal brand or company. In my interview with New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff, we briefly discussed why he thinks his personal account is his business account, and why he avoids publishing divisive posts.

I think one of the things is I treat it like a job. People have asked me, “Why don’t you talk about politics on Twitter?” And to that, I would say, “Well, do you email your whole office and tell them what you think about politics?” ‘Because if you did that, then by all means, let me tweet something. Like, it’s not my personal account. It’s a business account. I, hopefully, will be the kind of person that has a different conversation with a friend over coffee than I would on Twitter because those are different mediums.

Jon Acuff via Coywolf interview

If your social presence is your business or is seen by others as being associated with your business, then your personal account may not be your personal account. And if your personal account is really your business account, and you publish politically or socially divisive posts, then you are creating a negative brand experience for some percentage of your followers.

Authenticity and the moral imperative

Not publishing posts that create a negative experience can create an intellectual dilemma. That’s especially true if you’re someone like me that cares about being genuine and standing up for what you believe in.

The most common counter-argument to why you shouldn’t publish ideological posts is that you don’t want their business anyway. It’s a situation where if the other person doesn’t agree with what you think is best for society, then you don’t want anything to do with them. And if you were to act and think otherwise, it would be a false representation of who you are and what you believe.

The most obvious problem with this approach is that in practice, it will limit the success of your business. It will win you enemies while simultaneously influence no one. Divisive posts either distance you and your business from another person or merely preach to a choir. They rarely if ever change anyone’s ideology. It’s typically a zero-sum game.

If you feel you must communicate authenticity and personal ideology via social posts, perhaps a better tactic to use is inference. For example, publishing posts about events you’re attending, sharing details about your company culture, and maintaining a tone that communicates a spirit of open-mindedness, may be the best way to express your beliefs without creating a negative experience for others.

What is the goal of your social presence?

Even though I’ve attempted to make a case for reducing negative experiences caused by divisive posts, that doesn’t mean it’s the best path for everyone. That’s especially true if a person’s brand is associated with and thrives off controversy. With that being said, I still think we need to be practical about what we publish.

When is it okay to publish divisive posts?

When is it not okay to publish divisive posts?

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Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the EIC and the primary author reporting for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of digital marketing and internet technologies experience. Follow @henshaw