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The world has gone topsy-turvy over the past few months, and small businesses can’t seem to get a break. Along with financial challenges from shutting down due to the pandemic, they are now forced to navigate the art of communication during troubling times along with risky content decisions. Most business owners understand social media messaging as it relates to their brand, but when it comes to sensitive, worldly matters, it’s a whole new ballgame that carries a huge amount of risk.
There are two big issues we are all navigating as a nation – a pandemic and civil unrest. The purpose of this piece is to open your minds and thoughts to help you make the right decision for your business when communicating online with a polarized country in crisis.
That is the question, isn’t it? I’ve seen businesses take sides during our recent civil unrest situation, and often, I cringe at what I see. Let me first say that every person is entitled to their opinion given the state of our country and on a personal level, please exercise that right as you see fit. However, there’s more than you and your opinion on the line when it comes to your business. Your employee’s jobs, your business’s reputation, and a lot more are at stake. So before you fire off a post in a heated moment or make a decision to publicly support a cause, take stock of all you’re risking before hitting “post.”
If you’re leaning toward engaging in a risky topic, before communicating in ANY way, ask yourself these questions:
If there’s a high-profile topic dominating the social sphere, ask yourself do I have all the facts. Supporting a cause that’s half-baked can have devastating effects once the unknown facts finally come to light. If you don’t seem to have all the facts or your gut is still in question, the best option would be to assume the least amount of risk and avoid posting. If you do have all the facts, move on to the next question.
Many businesses are quick to jump on the bandwagon to support trendy causes they know very little about. By using specific messaging, verbiage, and hashtags without proper research and consideration, could put your business in an undesirable negative light. Instead of being viewed as supportive, you’re viewed as ignorant of the cause.
If you’re a restaurant, it totally makes sense to support a “feed the hungry” cause because it aligns with your business’s mission to provide food to the masses. This is a noble effort, and most likely, your customers will view your support in a positive light. There’s little to no risk involved in this type of support which makes it a perfect match. These are the causes you want to seriously consider tying your business and name to. Controversial issues tend to be the riskiest. Investing your time and money supporting them will likely leave you with little to no return on investment with casualties along the way (lost followers, unsubscribes, and worst of all, a loss in business).
Doubling back on this question is always a good idea before putting any content out there. Staying in tune with your target audience and how they perceive your messaging is the cornerstone of content creation. If you do decide to post on a controversial issue, ask yourself how your customers will perceive your messaging. Will they support it? Will it destroy the brand you’ve built and the trust associated with it in their minds? These are all important questions worth asking before assuming this amount of risk online.
You may be personally passionate about a certain cause, and maybe you’re feeling the pressure of those demanding you to take a side, but the thing is, only you know what is best for you and your business. Ultimately, that choice lies in your hands. But, by knowing how to assess all the risks involved, you can make that decision with confidence.
To recap, let’s say you decide to engage in a high-profile matter online and tie your business to that cause. You potentially risk:
1) Your message being lost in the shuffle and viewed as added virtual noise
2) Misaligning your message with the cause you’re supporting
3) Backlash from new facts emerging from a cause you publicly supported
4) Losing followers and business
5) Damaging your reputation, you’ve worked hard to build
Consider asking yourself these questions before supporting any cause in the future. Small businesses suffered so much in 2020, and unfortunately, we have the most to lose. For us to survive and thrive, we must be smart about assessing digital risks and know how to pick our battles when it comes to being vocal about certain matters.
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Anna is an author and writer who is passionate about the art of storytelling. She enjoys connecting with small businesses in her community while taking their marketing efforts to the next level of growth.