With the explosion in popularity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, never has it been easier to spread your political beliefs to a global population. But is mixing politics and business bad for your brand?
According to Sprout Social research, 66% of consumers think it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues.
Some businesses may take this statistic to mean that they have to be vocal about anything that comes their way. I’m sure you’ve logged onto Twitter and Facebook and seen many businesses spamming your feed with their opinions.
But let’s be real here. Business social accounts aren’t personal ones and they shouldn’t be treated as such.
The posts you send out reflect the values of your company – and you need to question should businesses be involved in politics at all.
Sometimes, political posts can get a lot of interaction. And if you strongly believe that all press is good press, then maybe this is a quick way to get your involved in the conversation.
But the thing is, you should never mix politics with business. It’s messy, it’s complicated and done wrong, it can get your company into hot water.
Why? It’s simple. Not everyone will agree with you. And in today’s digital world where everyone has an opinion, they aren’t shy about hiding it either.
Grab your pitchforks, a political stance has been made
One bad political interaction can be enough to lose a customer forever.
That’s because politics is not a light subject. It’s personal, charged and drives action.
Political opinions are personal beliefs. Getting a die-hard Tory to suddenly vote for Labour would like be convincing a scientist that the earth is actually flat. It isn’t happening.
Mixing business with politics is risky because you’re promoting personal beliefs. You’re talking about something that is, to some people, a massive part of their lives.
If they disagree with you, you risk losing them forever.
In fact, 57% of consumers will boycott a brand that doesn’t share their social beliefs.
That means that you don’t only lose their custom, but you also run the risk of them warning their family and friends not to buy from you either.
In extreme cases, this can be the death of your business. Take small Tuscon restaurant Cup it Up, who permanently closed their doors because of negative reactions to a political Facebook post. Yikes.
But don’t panic yet. This is the worst-case scenario and it won’t all be like that. Unless you suddenly declare yourself to be anti-dog, anti-children, anti-environment, anti-education and anti-government in one fell swoop!
When can you mix politics and business?
There are some cases where the risk can pay off.
Nike is a great example of this. Last year, they released a set of adverts featuring Colin Kaepernick, a former American Football quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
In 2016, Kaepernick was the first NFL player to kneel during the national album to bring attention to and protest police brutality and racial injustice. By getting Kaepernick to sponsor their campaign, Nike loudly announced to the world where they stood.
It was a big risk and even got criticism from American President Donald Trump, who tweeted “What was Nike thinking?” when the sponsorship was announced.
But, it worked for them. The campaign grew its sales by a massive 31%.
Always consider the bigger picture
Sure, Nike has success taking a risk with a political stand, but that doesn’t mean you will.
Let’s say you’ve done the research, you’ve got the data and you can safely say that 80% of your customers agree with your political opinion.
Great! But before you hit the ground running, consider the flip side of this.
20% of your audience doesn’t agree.
Are you prepared to lose 20% of your customers when you can’t guarantee that you’ll get more sales from the ones that do side with you?
Do you really want to take that risk?
Taking (managed) risks
Mixing politics with business doesn’t mean that you have to jump on the hottest debate that’s on everyone’s minds right now.
If you want to test the waters, you can take a political stance on subjects that aren’t too polarising, like environmental issues. For the most part, these issues are relatively safe.
In fact, according to a Nielsen study, 81% of customers have strong beliefs that businesses should help to improve the environment. In addition, they will actively seek out environmentally friendly and sustainable brands.
And besides, we bet you’ve never heard anyone say “we can’t have coffee there. They recycle”.
It’s also safer when taking political risks to frame your stance in a positive light.
Take Red Molotov for example. when they sold a line of t-shirts after the Brexit referendum in support of remain voters. Their bestseller? A shirt that had the message “we are the 48%” printed on it.
They explained that “we find it’s the stuff that expresses an opinion that sells well, rather than purely cynical messages that are anti x or y. People seek out a positive message.”
Which make sense because people want to be heard. They don’t want to feel like they’re being attacked for their personal opinion but supported and seen.
Whatever stance you take, don’t go negative. Be positive and support your customers. It will take you further.
Make sure it’s a cause you believe in
If you’re going to take a stance, it needs to be something that lines up with your company values. More importantly, it needs to be something that you believe in.
Take pride for example and the number of companies that suddenly claim they’re LGBT friendly. It’s not enough to just hold up a rainbow flag and shout “happy pride!” like a standard holiday greeting. For the LGBT community, pride isn’t a massive party.
Especially when you consider that more than one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident in 2017 alone. For transgender people, this number rises to two in five.
Pride is a celebration, sure. But it’s also a policial movement to drive change and acceptance. The first pride wasn’t a party, it was a riot.
If you’re in support of pride, be in support of it. Do something to show your solidarity, donate to LGBT charities or host an event that might make a difference.
Whatever you do, show people that you really care. Otherwise, it will appear inauthentic and ingenuine – and then what’s the point of taking that political risk in the first place?
So, should businesses be involved in politics?
As we’ve covered in this post, there are some instances where mixing business with politics can pay off.
But any kind of political stance is a risk of losing customers and damaging your business.
Sure, some customers might want you to take a stance. But when you realise that nearly two-thirds of people say they’d continue shopping at businesses that stay silent about social issues – it’s just not worth the risk.
So, keep silent. Stay out of the policial fight and focus on other ways to build your business instead.