You can't open a newspaper, watch TV, waste time on Facebook, or listen to the radio without someone complaining, yelling, arguing or pleading with the viewing public to support some cause.
This year, of course, is an American presidential election. Which means, it will be non-stop political news until November. As a small business owner, it can be extremely hard not to get caught up in the tsunami of this year's political wave. It's like the plague or the blob. You just can't escape.
I've been warning small businesses to avoid Election Fever for a long time, but this year seems to be more contentious than previous elections. As Larry McCarthy, a super PAC strategist, says "It's like the end of the Quentin Tarantino movie, where everyone is shooting everyone else."
As an American, you have the right to share your opinion on any political viewpoint you have. However, sharing that view may not be in the best interest of your business. In fact, sharing your political views could damage your reputation and your business brand. I'm not suggesting you can't do this. Rather, I'm suggesting you stop and reconsider how much damage you could do to your bottom line by publicly supporting any political candidate this year.
You Can Damage Your Target Market
In a country that is supposed to be "one nation, under God, indivisible", we are certainly a nation divided. With 23% of Americans identifying as Republicans, 32% as Democrats, and 39% as independents, we're not a nation united under one political belief system.
If you publically support one candidate as a business owner, you can automatically distance yourself from a large portion of your market. If you post your support on your social media profile (even your personal one), you could offend potential customers or drive away existing ones.
Some businesses would clearly rather do business with their kind of people. And if you can afford to eliminate 40% or more of your target market, go for it. But for small struggling businesses, this has the potential to shut down your business.
You'll Never Win Politics
Have you ever seen a political debate on social media where there was a clear winner? Instead, you see increasingly angry and offensive comebacks. In your attempt to be heard and proven right, you could destroy your brand's image in one Facebook rant..
As a small business owner, you are your brand. What you support, how you act in public, and what you say on social media all impacts your reputation. This is your brand. You want your brand to scream trustworthy, quality, and professional. When you engage in a public debate, you can seem hostile, close-minded, and uninformed.
Sara Hawkins, from Social Media Examiner, says this type of speech would never fly in the "real world". So even if your candidate wins, your business could certainly lose.
Choose Social Responsibility Over Politics
If you still have a drive to support causes you care about, choose social responsibility over politics. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is when corporations or businesses create a strategy that supports a specific social cause. Most of the time it's something that the entire public would support, like animal rights or breast cancer awareness.
Is it a marketing ploy to support a popular cause to improve your public image? Undoubtedly. But wouldn't you choose a business that is doing something good in the world over a business that cares only for profit?
Here're a few examples of businesses who choose a non-controversial cause to support:
Startup Savant is an online magazine for startups and entrepreneurs who supports children's education. So far, they have helped over 30,000 kids through DonorsChoose.org.
Leonisa is an undergarment retailer who chooses to support breast cancer through helping educate women about how to perform breast exams. A fitting cause for a bra company!
Warby Parker sells eyeglasses online with the goal of helping the one billion people worldwide who don't have access to glasses by giving away one set of glasses for every pair sold.
Be Vocal, But Use Your Platform Wisely
Your business has one purpose - to stay profitable. Unless you're hoping to launch a political career, this is not the arena to spout your political viewpoints. Think long and hard before you draw a line in the sand. Be vocal, but try to stick with topics that are largely non-controversial and the majority of your target market will support.
Customers will rally behind a socially responsible cause, you'll get great PR, and build goodwill in your community. This doesn't hurt your brand or your business.
Yes, you have the right to speak your mind. But remember that you're also a professional. Be thoughtful and choose your words carefully. Before you make public statements, ask yourself this:
Is this worth damaging my business?