Why Entrepreneurs Shouldn’t Discuss Politics on Social Media

Summary: For most web and mobile entrepreneurs, social media is where we work – where we build our personal brands, market our products, respond to customers, and recruit. Just as we wouldn’t proselytize our political views in the office, we shouldn’t do it on social media either. There is almost no upside and lots of unseen consequences.

Social Media is Becoming Non-stop Controversy

2012 will probably be remembered as the year when every American decided to get political on Facebook. I thought the nonstop proselytizing would end after the November Presidential election, but the debate over gun control and America’s budget filled the void. I’ve finally realized that it will never end; politicians and the media simply have too much at stake.

I often see entrepreneurs use social media as a platform for expressing their strongly held personal views on controversial issues. To do so is your choice, just understand the risks you’re taking when you get political on social media.

The Problem: We’re Tribal, not Rational

Our brains are funny. We all think our brains work rationally by drawing conclusions based on evidence.

Unfortunately, that’s not how our brains have evolved. We FIRST form belief systems and THEN look for evidence to support what we already believe.

We filter out the evidence and opinions that don’t support what we already believe, and in doing so form emotional “tribes” with people who share our belief systems.

Democrat? Conservative? Tea-Party Member? Baptist? NRA member? Libertarian? 99%er?

It is almost impossible to live in our modern society without joining a tribe, without emotionally binding with people who share a similar world view.

Tribal Risks for Entrepreneurs

Unfortunately joining a tribe carries risks for us as entrepreneurs: alienating those outside of our tribe.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve got a completely open mind to opinions that differ from my own, but I don’t. Like everyone, when presented with a strong opinion that conflicts with a core belief of my tribe, I react emotionally.

“Oh jeez, he’s an X? Why is he cluttering up my Facebook1 page with this nonsense!”

When someone stands firmly and defiantly outside of our tribes they hit us emotionally and challenge our deepest belief systems.

They also give us an unspoken reason to unfollow. Or not retweet. Or buy from a competitor.

It isn’t worth it.

Still Not Convinced? Try this Experiment

If you’re not convinced, here is a little experiment you can run.

1.  First, try to remember the last time you read a strong opinion on Facebook and changed your mind as a result. You can’t think of one? Me neither. I’m guessing it has never happened.

2.  Second, try to remember the last time someone posted a politically-charged comment on Facebook that annoyed you.  My guess is that it happens almost every time you visit Facebook.

Ultimately, It’s Your Choice

I’ve got strong opinions about controversial topics like gun control, America’s budget, and religion2 like everyone else. I’m just not willing to alienate people for absolutely no good reason so I try to keep them to myself.

If you ask me, I’ll tell you my opinion. But I’m guessing you don’t really care.

Photo Credit: Josh Lopez

  1. On most of the Internet – content sites, commerce, Twitter, etc. – we almost automatically band with our tribes. Facebook is particularly interesting because our “Friends” come from a cross section of life. Family, friends, schoolmates all connected mostly because we shared a common circumstance, not a common point of view. Thus we’re regularly exposed to people inside and outside of our tribes.
  2. A quick note on Religion. Like many Americans, I’ve got very religious friends and family so I understand how and why religion plays a role in people’s lives. But now that I live outside of America I’ve becoming more aware that much of the rest of the world – especially Europeans and Australians – get quite annoyed with what they view as constant religious proselytizing by Americans. America is becoming increasingly secular, but much of the rest of the world is a generation ahead of us. In America, you can’t get elected to political office if don’t talk about the role of religious faith in your life. In many other developed countries, talking about your religious faith can cost you elections. And, unfortunately, our divisive politics and media links religious views with political views. I’m only raising this point for you to consider that what you may view as a harmless point of self-expression about your faith on social media might be a big turn-off for others. It’s a global economy.

4 Comments

  1. Scott Ayres January 23, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Interesting commentary on this subject. I’ve seen marketers and brands take a huge stance politically and seen how it affected their businesses negatively. At the same time as an individual expressing my personal opinions on my personal accounts shouldn’t be squelched. But I also know it does draw a line in the sand.

    I stayed out of politics this past year as it’s just too divisive and pisses people off. Now the gun control thing I have voiced my opinion on a few times publicly and have a strong stance on it. I have at this point decided to only post to my actual friends about these issues and not always to the “public” setting on Facebook. I typically only friend people I know and they aren’t my target audience in business so I don’t mind having banter with them and they will still be my friend in real life no matter what I say. (well most of them anyway)

    But that being said I don’t think people should be embarrassed of their beliefs and stances just to save face and keep a customer. Sometimes when building your tribe it’s best to “fire” some of them and only align yourself with those you most agree with. But, you have to be prepared for the decline in potential buyers when you do that and probably need to be in a good financial situation first.

    • kevindewalt January 23, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

      Well put, Scott.

      “Sometimes when building your tribe it’s best to “fire” some of them and only align yourself with those you most agree with. But, you have to be prepared for the decline in potential buyers when you do that and probably need to be in a good financial situation first.”

      Yep, that’s the choice!

  2. Andreas Ahrens January 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    While you certainly risk alienating people, you can also tie those that share your views closer to you. Politics is a charged subject but the same can be said about many topics – people are for and against. I would rather take a stand in subject I feel strongly about and risk alienating some and making others more loyal.

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