The surprising and unpredictable political events over the last year have sparked off countless social media posts sometimes resulting in feuds, name calling and even public condemnation. Normally apolitical people have been spurred on to comment in ways they would normally have never considered before. For many, this participation is their way of expressing their disbelief and unease with what’s happening in the world around them. However, this also means that we are suddenly seeing sides of personal brands we might never have encountered before. This provokes the question of whether we should ourselves join in and reveal the more political sides of our own personal brand, a decision which may either empower us or leave us feeling vulnerable. Here are a few considerations when navigating this challenging political landscape.
To speak or not to speak
Your first decision is whether to speak your views publicly. If you do speak out, you run the risk of alienating clients or colleagues who do not share your views. If you don’t, then you may start to look as though you don’t care…or are just too scared to defend your position.
Of course, that may not always be the case. I have a friend who tries to navigate the sea of his politically diverse friends and family by avoiding posting or commenting on any social media, as he believes his personal brand is strong enough for others to know where he stands politically. He prefers to take action instead by supporting causes that reflect his political beliefs.
Others refer back to the golden rule of family: never discussing politics at the dinner table. After all, if it weren’t for social media, we’d never know their views. However, this begs the question: now that we do know and we can see it (and see it repeatedly), can we really ignore it, especially in this current climate?
It can be a difficult and very personal decision.
Separate your online life
Many people’s solution is to have two separate online lives: a more public one, which clients and colleagues have access to, and a private one. More personal views such as politics are shared in a private account such as Facebook to which only trusted friends and people you know are invited.
This seems like a simple solution, but unless you are starting your social media life from scratch, it may be quite hard to implement. You may find yourself shuffling people around – asking them to join a different account for instance – and that can get messy. Blocking certain people or groups in your private account is another solution, however this can be tedious and may feel disingenuous. The ultimate faux pas, of course, is to accidentally post in the wrong account: something that is very easily done. Staying alert, on track and rigorously checking and reassessing your privacy settings is the key to successfully implementing this tactic.
Encouraging debate but staying open
Another way of showing people that you do care about what’s going on is to ask questions and encourage debates amongst your connections or followers. This approach can yield interesting results and help build your profile as someone who thoughtfully listens or encourages dialogue on issues. The aim here is to be seen as more neutral, not passive, so you will still have to monitor what you choose to share.
Of course, you may always be asked “what do you think then…?”, and there is always a risk of the debate blowing up with extreme emotions if you’re not on hand to moderate or calm things down.
Carefully consider your co-branding
Even if you stay resolutely non-political, who you are associated with may be a reflection on your own personal brand. Such connections can be very visible to colleagues, prospective employers or friends…and people naturally tend to make assumptions. This can be especially true for social media networks. It may be worth doing an occasional sweep to make sure that you’re not associated with those who vociferously share their views or social media groups whose politics might be on the more extreme side of the spectrum, as it might give anyone looking the wrong idea about who you are.
Outside of the workplace, the most effective co-branding tends to happen in our romantic relationships. If your significant other’s political views are diametrically opposed to your friendship group or work colleagues, you might want to consider keeping it under wraps or sidestep political discussions if you know it’s going to create conflict or awkwardness. Or on the flip side, if your partner is politically “out”, make it quite clear that your views differ from theirs!
Assess your environment
The offline implications of sharing your political views are wide. While on one hand, you could find new allies amongst friends, clients and co-workers, you could also find yourself the object of bullying if you’re in a work environment where the majority have very different views. If something like this occurs, whether it’s in your workplace or amongst friends, then this may be a sign to consider whether this really is the right workplace or friendship group for you. Even if it’s not outright bullying, a sense that your beliefs, values and passions are not shared may be enough to provoke you to make more of an effort to find your own political tribe…or even to step up and become more involved in making a change in the world.
Just go for it!
Perhaps you relish these platforms that allow you to speak out and feel it’s your chance to get heard. Be aware that almost any social or political views, from liberalism to feminism to where you stand on Brexit, have the potential to be extremely divisive, and you may find people severing connections. Think through how you are going to handle criticism. It’s one thing to unfriend someone on social media who has crossed a line by being disrespectful or is verging on being a troll, and another to unfriend someone who counters your comment with a well-thought out political argument that makes you look a bit silly. How you handle the criticism can make all the difference.
My advice if you do decide to become more political:
• Start off this slowly, dipping your toe in and getting used to handling the reactions you get
• Test out discussing political differences with friends or family you feel comfortable with and will be more open minded
• Like or comment on friend’s posts expressing a political sentiment that reflects your own
• Start to like or comment on political posts from groups that will show up on your wall, such as news networks
• Think about having a ratio, for example, three non-political posts or photos you’ve taken to one political post
• Consider displaying your feelings through thoughtful quotes which can be a more round-about way of communicating how you feel
• Be sensitive to current affairs, particularly those which affect your immediate friends and colleagues. Posting political satire may not be very appropriate if your feed is full of posts expressing condolences about a natural disaster or terrorist attack
• Don’t get trapped in an echo chamber. Take time to listen and read as objectively as possible and consider different views before commenting
• Check your facts. Try not to say or post something without doing a little fact checking first. Who said it? What is their reputation? Where did the data come from? Is it a credible source, or is it from a notoriously biased social media source, newspaper or tabloid? These will all be reflections on your personal brand that can leave you looking misinformed and not credible to say the least.
At the end of the day, much of today’s politics is not about politics at all; it’s about deeper values, and fundamental beliefs about the world and how others should be treated. These personal beliefs are at the very core of our personal brands…and if there’s ever a time for your voice to be heard, perhaps that time is now. And perhaps it might be your most authentic voice yet.