Why Brands Should Avoid Politics on Twitter

2016 will forever be remembered as THE year the world went mad. Who can recall a more politically tumultuous period in living memory?

Beside WWII survivors, not many I’d have thought. But there have been plenty of desperate moments since then. The invasion of Iraq and the Falklands war caused major uproar but somehow don’t seem quite as potentially apocalyptic as this year’s developments.

The difference, of course, is the micro-moment availability of global information and the way in which it is consumed. Social Media embodies the battleground for political differences of opinion and – to its credit – has helped educate the younger masses about politics.

However, it has also become an outlet for dangerous rhetoric and massively overblown statements. This is not something a brand would want to dip its toes into.

For brands, politics is a prickly, dangerous subject and one to avoid – especially on Twitter where a brand can find itself in the middle of a shit storm quicker than it can refresh its homepage. The risk simply isn’t worth it. An ill-received tweet will only impact your brand image negatively and divide your audience.

You want your brand image to be clean, consistent and positive, not irrevocably damaged.

“But aren’t I supposed to be controversial?”

Yes, but within reason. Being controversial is good practice for building a Twitter profile. Controversy encourages your followers to engage with your brand and share your content. However, if you are controversial too often the attention you receive will be mostly negative. Your tweets should be relevant but must maintain a level of discipline. Carelessness is usually the reason for epic Twitter fails and subsequent brand damage.

“What if my followers think I’m ignorant?”

Don’t give into FOMO. Just because a political news story is trending doesn’t mean you have to jump on the band wagon. If the story doesn’t affect you as a brand then don’t get involved – your followers wouldn’t expect you to. Move on, tweet about something else. Your latest member of staff; your new coffee mug; a “behind the scenes” look into your brand. Anything but politics.

Certainly don’t exploit a political story for marketing purposes, like Epicurious, who couldn’t have been more insensitive if they tried in the wake of the Boston bombings. However, there are times when brands should comment on a political story. For example, two months ago Skittles had to respond to Donald Trump Jnr’s very public and distasteful analogy. But what choice did they have? They handled it perfectly.

“What if I accidentally say something I shouldn’t have?”

Offensive tweets are hard to recover from, whether they were sent on purpose or accidentally. The worst thing you could do though, other than argue with customers, is pretend that it never happened. The minute you realise you’ve put your foot in it, don’t protest your innocence or blame someone else; own up to your blunder and apologise. The longer you take to do this, the worse the situation will be for your brand.

Remember, a controversial tweet from a high profile account spreads like wildfire and can snowball into a scathing attack – even if deleted moments after it was sent. All it takes is one quick-thinking follower to take a screen shot and voila, your brand is propelled into chaos.

Also be aware that not everything you find on Twitter is accurate. People often tweet on impulse and don’t necessarily check the validity of their source beforehand. Consequently, up to hundreds of thousands are being misinformed. If your brand re-tweets a fake news story you could come in for some hard and justified criticism.

If your tweet was very offensive or your brand is well-recognised, you may even have to release an apologetic statement, which would add further fuel to the fire. It’s always better to address and make amends for mistakes than ignore the stream of criticism, however harsh it may be.

So no matter how tempted you might be to respond to an outrageously anti-democratic tweet or declare publicly your view on Brexit, bear in mind that to do so would not be good for business!

Suggested further reading:

•   The Most Embarrassing Corporate Social Media Fails (digitaltrends.com)

•    Trash Talk: How Twitter is Shaping the New Politics (theguardian.com)

•    The Benefits of Twitter for Business (viviennekneale.com)

Vivienne K Neale Digital is a digital marketing agency in Hertfordshire, UK. We aim to help SMEs overcome marketing hurdles and create compelling digital content that drives results. If you need a leg-up with your content marketing or social media marketing do get in touch via our contact page for a free Skype consultation 🙂

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