Ah, election season. The time of year when you don’t need novelas or water cooler chat for some drama. You can lounge on the couch watching TV and, boom, a perfectly placed commercial slips in ending with “I am so and so, and I approve this message.” (Uh huh, as if it was hard to guess.)
Yup, it’s upon us full throttle—and you can’t avoid it.
So what do you do when the subject of politics comes up?
If you’re at work, you may try to keep your opinions pretty neutral, depending on who’s in the conversation, because you never really know what others think. Yet, even when you talk to friends in a “safe space,” you may realize you have very different views.
Throw social media into the mix—where you have even a broader range of opinions—and you learn more about people’s political views than you ever cared to know.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing on a topic. But let’s face it, differences can make you judge someone—even if you don’t realize it. It’s like when I tell someone I don’t like chocolate and peanut butter together and the response is: “Oh my goodness, really? That’s so weird!” (See, you’re judging me too, aren’t you?)
Not quite as controversial, maybe, but you get my point. Talking about politics is tricky and should be navigated with caution.
Here are six things to keep in mind when talking politics on social media.
1. Align your political views with your brand
What you say online can impact your personal and professional relationships, which also affects your personal brand. (Even if you don’t consider yourself a “brand,” your reputation is being built with everything you say and do.)
Think about the impression you want to make when you share your thoughts. Does it add value to your audience? Does it inform? Does it support your beliefs?
If the answer is “yes,” then go for it. You don’t have to shy away from politics if you’re comfortable taking a stance. Just make sure your “online voice” is an authentic reflection of who you are in “real life.”
2. Consider your career
It’s always best to err on the side of caution with “hot topics” if you’re actively job hunting or working at a high-profile company. After all, your social media activity can be an important factor when you’re vetted for professional opportunities.
There are far too many examples of people who lost their jobs over a post they thought was private. It’s not worth it to risk losing a job, client, or potential opportunity over something that wasn’t appropriate to publicly share.
3. Add value, not clutter
“Breaking News,” everything you read online is not true. There’s so much misinformation being shared (even from friends). Posts from satirical news sites and non-credible sources can be hard to filter out if you’re quickly browsing, so be careful.
You know this already, I know, but it’s easy to get caught up sometimes. Any post you share automatically has your stamp of approval. If it’s not accurate, it takes away from your credibility so do your research first.
If you’re going to share news, make sure it’s from a reliable source.
4. Be aware of your audience
Know the difference between public and private posts. You literally can be sharing your thoughts with the whole world and not even know it.
In a Help article, Facebook explains that your posts on open forums like Pages and groups may show up in search engines like Yahoo and Google. (This is called indexing, and it applies across multiple social media platforms.)
Regularly checking your privacy settings may fall low on your “things to do” list, but make it a priority if you’re active online. (Settings can change often without you knowing.)
if you want your posts to have a limited reach (e.g., only friends), manage your privacy settings.
5. Don’t indulge in negative exchanges
Avoid internet trolls with a ten-foot pole. You can get lured into a heated political debate without even realizing it; don’t take the bait. Remember, your public exchanges can be seen by people across your network and indexed, depending on your settings.
Don’t hurt your brand by interacting with people who have a lot of time on their hands and nothing to lose.
If what you thought was an intelligent debate between two adults turns into a virtual fight party, quickly exit stage left.
6. Think before you talk
Lastly, don’t emotionally post—it’s almost as bad as drunk-texting. Once you hit that button, your post will be out there to be judged.
You never want to say anything that’s hurtful to your brand that you can’t take back. Even if you delete the post, trust me, somebody saw it.
You have the right to feel how you feel. You have the right to be passionate about your views. But you also should consider how your words impact others.
So the questions to ask before posting are: What do you want people to get from your posts? Are you just venting or do you want validation? Do you want others to debate your feelings? (If you decide to still share your post, be prepared for responses because controversial posts will certainly get attention).
Ultimately, you can’t control how people react to your thoughts but you can control your delivery.
Marietta Gentles Crawford is a writer and personal brand strategist who helps innovative professionals and companies build compelling brands. With over ten years’ experience climbing through top corporate and government brands as a writer and trainer, her passion is sharing lessons learned along the way.