Should You Mix Employee Advocacy and Politics?
In the wake of last week’s presidential elections, many social media experts were left with questions. Should our employee advocates, executives, and social sellers tweet about the election? If they do, how will those social posts affect our brand?
Trapit’s CEO, Henry Nothhaft, Jr., even conducted an informal Twitter poll on the subject:
To help companies navigate the thorny intersection of employee advocacy, social media, and divisive topics like politics, we put together a short FAQ. We hope that it helps!
Q: Should my employees post about controversial topics on social media?
When employees post their personal views alongside branded content, it creates an association in the minds of buyers and current customers. For some companies, that association can be a positive thing. For others, that association can be harmful. Your answer to this question is largely contingent on your company’s brand and culture.
If your company has embraced the election season, like JetBlue and Netflix did, it might be acceptable for employees to discuss politics on social. Or imagine that you’re in the renewable energy industry. It makes sense that your employees have points of view on renewable energy subsidies, as well as adjacent topics like climate change. Or let’s say that your company values open expression and free speech. Then, your employees might feel empowered to share their views.
No matter what you decide, it’s important to remind employees to be respectful when discussing controversial topics like politics. The rules of internet civility should not be discarded.
Q: How should I communicate the company’s expectations to employees?
Start with writing a social media policy for your company. By putting your approach to controversial issues like politics in writing, you can help protect your company’s reputation.
But remember that writing a social media policy is not enough. Many employees need the rules to be contextualized. That’s where social media training comes in. While many employees understand how to use social media in a personal setting, they need to understand social media in a professional context. And that doesn’t just include tips and tricks; that also includes education about professional netiquette. Give them examples of what they should do and what they shouldn’t do. Don’t leave them guessing.
Q: Should a company’s executives post about divisive issues?
Most companies are hierarchical, and the higher up the employee sits, the tighter the association between the employee’s words and the brand’s reputation. In other words, when a CEO tweets about divisive issues like elections and politics, his or her comments will be seen as a direct reflection of the brand, whether the CEO likes it or not.
That’s why it’s important to offer social media training tailored for executives. They need to understand how to be highly visible members of the company, and they need to understand the company’s “no fly zones” on social media (i.e. the topics that should be avoided).
Q: What about social sellers? Is it wise for sales reps to post about politics?
Again, the answer varies from company to company, but at Trapit, we believe that sales reps should avoid divisive topics.
Modern sales is about building relationships. Just as you can upset an aunt or uncle or friend by posting about controversial issues, sales reps can jeopardize existing customer relationships with a tweet or offend prospects with a LinkedIn comment, thus ending a relationship even before it begins.
To put it another way, the majority of customers want to avoid speaking with salespeople. By posting about controversial topics, you’re giving customers more reasons to ignore you and your sales team.
Q: But what about my employees’ First Amendment rights?
Unless you’re a government employee, the First Amendment does not protect your right to the freedom of speech. The First Amendment limits only the government’s ability to suppress speech. More specifically, it provides that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.”
Courts have extended this prohibition to all federal, state, and local government officials but have consistently emphasized that the First Amendment’s strictures do not apply to private-sector employers, meaning that private-sector employees can face repercussions for what they post on social media in the United States.
When creating a social media policy, consult with your legal and HR departments. They will have a better understanding of what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
In addition to politics, we have the traditional taboo subjects: race, money, religion, and sex. While those topics are a good starting point, they aren’t the only subjects that could upset potential customers. Encourage your employees to be critical thinkers.
For example, sports can be a highly divisive issue. Let’s say that you were a Cleveland-based sales rep, and your territory included the state of Illinois. By posting on social media about Cleveland’s baseball team during the 2016 World Series, you might irk some of your buyers in Chicagoland. Sure, some prospects might say, “It’s just baseball. I’m not going to hold sports affiliations against this person.” But for others, baseball is no laughing matter, and your support of another team could be off-putting.
So, step into the shoes of your customers, and think about what might be a turn-off.
Much has been written about politics in the workplace. Here are two good starting points: