Should your business get political?

You have remarkably strong feelings about a current political issue, and as a business owner or manager, you see yourself as a thought leader. While you unquestionably have a right to make a public stand, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Perhaps you’re tempted to toss your own two cents into the fray and publicly share your beliefs on political policy, taxes, race relations, climate change, gun ownership, the national anthem, or any of the dozens of fractious issues that are making today’s social media titans wealthier. After all, everyone has a right to their opinion, don’t they? You’re far more informed than the average person and you always take the time to vote. You’ve even chatted with your congressional or state representatives. If anyone has earned a right to speak loudly and proudly, it’s you, right?

I won’t dispute your freedom or your passion, but I’d definitely counsel you to stay out of the public battle. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be politically active. I’m not suggesting that you stop supporting causes that matter to you or making sure your elected officials know where you stand. What I am saying is that using your business as a public megaphone for your personal political beliefs can backfire in ways you may not realize until it’s too late.

You may feel strongly that everyone should own a gun, or that humans are to blame for climate problems, that we need more or less immigration, or whatever … but it’s usually in your best interest to keep your company neutral. Unless your business is directly and actively involved in one of those controversies, your company as an entity should remain apolitical.

Our society has become more politically divided than it’s been for quite some time. Rational, respectful discussions have largely been replaced with angry tweets and angrier talking heads. Simple social media posts explode into furious battles in which both sides are so eager to promote their points that they don’t even read what they’re responding to.

At the same time, the marketplace has become more diverse, probably more than you realize. On any issue, there’s likely broad disparity in thought and stance among your customer base. As long as you remain neutral, and the customers who disagree with your stance are unaware of it, there’s no reason for anyone to get worked up. But take a highly visible public position, and you’ll see customers vaporize because they don’t share your view and don’t want to support it. When they didn’t know you believed in arming bears, they thought you were an okay guy who had an okay company. Now they think you’re one of “those” jerks.

Most of the customers who leave won’t take the time or effort to tell you that they’ve stopped doing business with you. They don’t want to get in an argument. Instead, they’ll quietly switch to your competitor. You’re just as likely to do that if you discover that a business you’ve supported takes a stance you disagree with. For example, if you’re all for tougher immigration laws and you discover that your favorite restaurant has knowingly employed illegal aliens, you may stop eating there. That’s increasingly human nature in these divisive times.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you should defer to snowflakes and people who become offended at the slightest thing (such as my use of the pejorative “snowflakes,” which I can assure you has ticked some readers off).

Nor am I suggesting that you shouldn’t stand up for what you believe. What I’m saying is that you should keep your personal political beliefs and your company’s public viewpoint separate. That’s not compromising your morals; it’s just respecting the reality that your customers may have many viewpoints. You know that guy who starts a pointless argument just to hear the sound of his own voice? Don’t be him.

So if your company shouldn’t talk publicly about politics, what should you talk about? I’d rather see you devote your moments in the spotlight to talking about your products, your services, and your wonderful customers — not about whatever the cable news guys are yelling about.

Let’s be honest: putting your beliefs in the public square probably won’t move the discussion around the issue either way, but it could unknowingly put you at a significant disadvantage. Unless sharing your view through your business has the potential to dramatically advance your cause, wisdom favors keeping that opinion to yourself.