Should PR folks be sharing their political viewpoints on Facebook?

Tue, Nov 6, 2012

PR

Yesterday, I posted a simple status update on my Facebook profile:

The response was quite surprising. First, 67 people took the time to comment. Remember, this is my personal page. I’m not a celebrity or political figure. Just a guy with some friends on Facebook. And many of those 67 left LONG, well-reasoned comments.

Clearly, the post had struck a chord with people. And, obviously, it was timely, too.

But, as I suspected, people had all sorts of views. Here’s a smattering of some of the more interesting comments:

The “if someone chose not to work with me because of my political views, then I wouldn’t want to work with them” view was fairly common in the thread. But, it’s a viewpoint that’s convenient, I believe, in some cases. What if you’re desperate for work? Are you going to stick with those guns then? How far does that mentality go?

Note Jason Keath’s comment above–and Shelly’s response. That was another common theme that came through. Many people saying, basically, they simply don’t care. That politics trumps business success, in this case. My response to this: Why do we HAVE to share our every thought (including our political viewpoints) on Facebook? Can’t some beliefs be kept to ourselves? I share a ton on Facebook–photos of my kids, ideas on our industry. But, I don’t share my religious or political views. Does that mean I’m not committed to the cause?

Really liked this comment from Holly Jo–especially the quote at the tail-end. Well said, Holly Jo.

Todd has been fairly outspoken about his political views on Facebook. And, I admire that about him. He stands up for what he believes in. It’s not for me, and I think it would cost me business if I did the same thing (and later in the thread, Todd said he believes his views have cost him business), but like I said, I admire people who do it well–and Todd definitely falls into that camp for me.

The front half of Jason’s comment sums up exactly where I fall on this. I don’t discuss politics with my clients face-to-face–so why would I do it on Facebook? I’m sure others on this thread do discuss politics with clients–but I don’t. I think that’s a personal decision, but for me, that just feels a bit too risky (unless you’re absolutely positive you know someone’s political views before starting the discussion–and even then I probably wouldn’t do it).

Some folks, like Christopher Pollard, took the online reputation angle. I’m more of a blurry-line guy myself, but I know a lot of people compartmentalize their platforms the way Christopher is suggesting here.

Prudent approach here my Stephanie Smirnov, who keeps it pretty close to the vest, but also does share with friends/clients she has chosen as “friends” on Facebook. (also, love the [shakes cane] reference at the tail end).

As I said above, my personal decision here has been largely to NOT share my political views on Facebook with friends and family. I just think it’s too risky from a business point of view. I do have strong beliefs. And I think I’m a pretty opinionated person. But, I also think that just because I don’t share those beliefs publicly (which is what you’re doing on Facebook, let’s be honest), that doesn’t mean they’re not extremely important to me.

I grew up in a house where my family didn’t talk about politics all that much. I never really knew who my parents were voting for. They didn’t tell me–and I didn’t ask. That was kind of our philosophy. So, that’s the background I’m coming at this with. My personal family view is just a little different, but largely, I  keep most of my political views to myself (outside of a small group of family and friends).

What about you? If you work in the PR business, have you shared your political views with friends and family on Facebook this year? If yes, have you seen any backlash as a result? Do you think it impacts you–and your firm’s–reputation or business?

Would love to hear more thoughts on this topic…

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24 comments
3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Read this post yesterday, been trying to get here all day. 

 

Want to say there's a quote or expression, something about our beliefs and ideals can't be just convenient, you have to stick by them when they're hard too. I get the "wouldn't want to work with them anyway" sentiment, but also don't have the luxury of such deal breakers. Per your comments w/  @KellyeCrane  - I'm a solo PR and pretty much always looking for work/clients. I wouldn't take a job promoting a product or position I felt strongly against, but I'd also not turn down otherwise good work from a professional who happens to have differing views on political issues. Now being an LSU Tiger, I might fight it harder to work for a BAMA fan.. but that's a whole other matter. ;-)

 

Seriously though I always had respect for the taboo subjects of sex, money, religion and politics and have thusly tried to keep them out of my professional life. Over the years things have become so divisive, people so defensive, confrontational - I've made the same choice in my personal life too, to keep politics out. I respect others who engage in healthy, respectful discourse - but it's just not me. As @dariasteigman and @karenswim have mentioned, this is a 'to each his/her own' decision we all have to make. FWIW.

NormanBirnbach
NormanBirnbach

I tend to address politics with clients in terms of lessons we can learn and apply to our clients. That is: strip away the politics to understand what tactics may be applicable in PR and social media. Both presidential campaigns offered up lessons that PR and social media agencies could consider. (I'm not talking about attack ads.)  But I try to avoid political discussions with people -- colleagues and clients -- unless it's clear we're approaching issues from a similar place.  Political arguments are counter productive -- they generally don't change minds while they open the possibility of engendering hurt feelings and mistrust.

 

Mostly, I feel it's none of my business what their political beliefs are.  That changes, however, if a client or colleague espoused hateful ideology, or said something racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic.  At that point, you have to take a stand.

 

dariasteigman
dariasteigman

I have to agree with @karenswim and others who say that it isn't so black and white.As a rule, I try not to lead with my political perspective (of course I have one). I've worked for clients who share my politics and some who do not -- and some about whom I have no idea their political POV. 

 

There are a lot of people who I like a lot personally (and/or make great clients) that have different political positions. Why lead w/ the things that divide us rather than the ones that forge relationships?

 

That said, I do break my own rules occasionally (like a few election-night tweets)... But hopefully not in an asshat kind of way.

 

PS: Looking forward to meeting you in Atlanta in February.

karenswim
karenswim

Wow, Arik I really value this discussion and the insights shared by others. I truly believe that it is a matter of people being true to who they are but always maintaining respect and appropriateness. By nature, I am not one to share every thought publicly so I have largely refrained from sharing my personal political views via social media. My parents discussed politics and even respectfully debated issues in my presence. I knew what they believed and was invited to question, disagree and discuss BUT I was also taught to respect others and know when it was appropriate to keep my opinions to myself. Yet, I am aware that there are others who see silence as a denial of who they are. We're all different, and we live in different comfort zones. I do not think there is a right or wrong answer here but simply a need for each of us to evaluate what is right for us. 

KellyeCrane
KellyeCrane

Hi Arik- you know what? Over the past 24 hours, I'm on my way to changing my position on this issue. Yesterday, I felt that as long as people were expressing their opinions respectfully and with reasoned arguments, it's not a bad thing (and perhaps even a healthy part of democracy).

 

But today, not only am I shocked by some of the discourse on Facebook in particular, but I have a very personal example of how our political comments can be offensive in ways we don't intend. Allow me to share:

 

In response to my FB post this morning about the vitriol, a former work colleague messaged to tell me that I've offended her in the past (so she felt I was being hypocritical). This is because after North Carolina voted in favor of the anti-gay marriage amendment earlier this year, my FB stream was full of people expressing "everyone in NC is an idiot"- type sentiment, so I posted something in support of the "good people" of NC who voted against it. 

 

It was more political than I usually am, and in my mind I was expressing a more moderate view (to not paint everyone in the state with the same broad brush). However, my friend read this to mean that those who voted for it were "bad people" (and in her memory, that's what I said: "you proclaimed that those of us who prevailed were the bad people of NC"). I understand that what I said was snarky, and now I can see how this was the implication.

 

So, here I've shared in a more public way a bit about my politics, but I think it's a good example of what you're talking about. What I've decided is this: social media makes it necessary to boil the complexities of our positions down to a sentence or two, which makes things more divisive than they need to be.

ladysportsman
ladysportsman

Arik - you know the industry I work in, which can get in pretty heated discussions. So I tend to let my personal life be with the flow. I don't need to have negativity/disagreements/otherwise on my personal FB page when I have enough to deal with that at my 8-5 job. Besides, I have young nieces and nephews who follow me and I'd like to set an example for them.

 

So for now, you'll see lots of kitty pics on my personal page and you'll like it. :)

tborgman
tborgman

I'm not in PR specifically but certainly navigate the fringes of it. Funny, last week, I shared a well-known graphic/cartoon on my own FB page that really explains why I don't really engage on politics in the personal FB space. It's the one with the guy in front of a microphone with a caption that says "Your relentless political Facebook posts have finally turned me around to your way of thinking...............Said nobody, ever." This is so true. And it represents why I've been very measured in my political engagement in all social media. I can and do talk the P word with many but have never felt it necessary to turn my FB or any other professional pages/sites into another useless political podium that surely all of us have tired of. It all works so much better face to face over drinks than anonymously behind the firewall. Part of this is driven by the way we were brought up...religion, social issues, politics, and the like, were just something that we were taught to keep personal. I'm Scandahoovien so it's genetics!  

TracieBertaut
TracieBertaut

I've shared my political views with a few close friends this year, primarily because I've struggled with making a decision.  However, this was done in person and with the intent of gaining knowledge.  I don't mind my FB friends sharing their choice, but I have blocked posts from people from both parties who continuously disparage the other candidate.  Whether you agree or disagree with a candidate, both deserve the respect that should be afforded to the president-elect, whoever that ends up being.

youplusmeCEO
youplusmeCEO

WOW Arik... this is a debate that has been raging on my private FB page... posts, chat, messages, etc. As a PR practitioner, I choose to keep my cards close to the vest. I don't discuss my political view points because I have worked on the government side and the private sector. I find that my opinions don't change the way that I feel about others that do express their own - everyone has one, as the saying goes.

 

The fact that I keep my politics (and religion, for that matter) private, just means that I value my rights as an American to express my politics when it matters - in the voting booth. I enjoy watching the exchanges, however well- or ill-informed. But having grown up in a particularly vocal-in-a-particular-direction household, I found that when the discourse didn't sway a party to a particular viewpoint, it became more personal in the jabs. Apparently that is not just a familial habit. Watching that unfold in an arena where it will forever live in infamy is just sad. I've watched people I admire shovel the muck at others that they love and admire without batting an eye in the name of the political machine. Friendships become strained and working relationships get so overly cautious that it becomes difficult to find common ground.

 

Not my significant other, my mom, my teenage children or my coworkers know how or who I vote. But they understand that I believe in the system that we've been privileged to participate in.

mjkeliher
mjkeliher

Working in PR (or journalism, or catering, or anything else) hasn't a damn thing to do with it. Some people are comfortable with sharing their opinions, and some aren't. Similarly, some people are adults who can handle living with, being friends with, working with people they disagree with, and some people can get past something like that.

 

It's far riskier (in life, not necessarily in business) to be a closed-minded asshole than it is to have and express an opinion. :)

amysbryant
amysbryant

Really interesting discussion, Arik. It's been my experience that the best work happens when we work with people we respect and trust. That rarely means we agree on everything. Tough decisions are made all the time in business -- decisions that require people to hash it out and figure out the best solution. Part of creating an effective team that avoids group-think is intentionally filling it with diversity in gifts, talents, experience, temperament, work style and world-views. The ideal key traits everyone would have in common are passion, commitment, work ethic, great listening & social skills, and a common goal. Chris Kluwe @ChrisWarcraft  is about as opinionated as it gets, but is best friends with a teammate whose lifestyle, world-view and opinions are as different as night and day. What do they share? Mutual respect and trust: http://m.startribune.com/sports/?id=176200471 It's not that I don't want the work. But if someone has a problem working with me just because of a political tweet or Facebook post I've made, what will their stance be when we disagree on business matters? How will they communicate when tough choices have to be made? Are they the type of person who is willing to enter into dialogue, listen, actually let information in, and be swayed if the logic is sound? If not, they are likely not a great fit for a sustainable business relationship anyhow. I'm a consultant, not an order-taker. If someone just wants to hire a person to agree with them, they can get an intern. (No offense, interns.)

tressalynne
tressalynne

Nothing to do with the fact that I work in PR, I chose to keep my political opinions to myself. Perhaps it's more due to the fact that I have a very strong political (extended) family that I am at odds with when it comes to political opinions ;).  

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

I love when you're right on the pulse of things, Arik...and this one gave for thought.  Here's where I've netted out: my political commentary (and as a Canadian I was quite active during the US debates) my comments mainly concentrated on my PR POV of issues, demeanour, sound bites etc. For me, it's a happy medium.

Jensenborger6
Jensenborger6

@arikhanson No. But they'll keep doing it anyway.

FLWJoeOpager
FLWJoeOpager

@arikhanson A very interesting read that I enjoyed Arik. I'm fairly new to the industry, and have struggled with this dilemma personally.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @KellyeCrane Thanks for sharing, Kellye. Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about. What's more, I hear a lot of folks saying "my politics are who I am--I don't care if clients don't like it--if they don't agree with them and have a problem with that, we don't have to work together." See, I think that's a little too convenient. Easy to say that when times are good and you're not hunting for work. But, what if you're a solo counselor and you NEED work. You're NOT going to take a job because of this? Some people might stick to their guns, but I have a hard time believe people would turn down work when times are tough because of political viewpoints. The other point that you illustrated so well is you just don't know how people are going to take your comments--even ones you think are benign. Again, this is why I rarely engage on politics and religion. Just not worth it--for me, the upside isn't worth the risk. This doesn't mean I don't have opinions (I certainly do)--it just means I don't want to share them publicly.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @ladysportsman Good point--younger people are watching. I don't have to deal with that quite yet, but it's coming and it's a great point.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @mjkeliher Well we'll have to agree to disagree on this one Mr. Keliher. I think working in a service-based industry has everything to do with it. Especially for me, as a solo. When people work with me, I think they're buying "me" as much as they're buying my skills/abilities. So, if I were to share my political views online (and they could see that), that might factor in. Sure, that information might help, in some cases, but I tend to think it would hurt me more than it would help. And, generally, I don't want to give people more reasons NOT to hire me--I want to give them more reasons TO hire me. So, maybe I'm in a unique position--could be--but that's my stance. 

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @tressalynne I just grew up in a family where we didn't share our political decisions. So, that's a big part of it for me. You don't ask other people who they vote for--and you certainly don't tell them who you voted for. You are your heritage, right? ;)

arikhanson
arikhanson

@FLWJoeOpager Where did you land?

mjkeliher
mjkeliher

 @arikhanson  And therein lies the difference: In my mind, and in my family, it's recognized that the old saying "don't discussion religion and politics in polite company" doesn't leave much interesting to discuss, so have at it. :)

tressalynne
tressalynne

 @arikhanson Yes! Although, in my family, they are VERY vocal about who they're voting for and are condescending to any differing opinions so I may needle them a bit, but I'm not about to "fight" the centurial heritage that has brought them to their convictions. :)  

FLWJoeOpager
FLWJoeOpager

@arikhanson I kept my opinions to a minimum and avoided any discussion or debate on any issues. VERY different than my stance 4 years ago.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@FLWJoeOpager I would imagine...

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  1. [...] in PR?This is a guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney. I found this post by Arik Hanson on whether PR folks should share their political viewpoints on Facebook fascinating for two reasons.  First, Arik questions whether a lack of discretion, i.e. not [...]