Companies, political views, and social media

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guyToday nearly everyone is into social media, and when it comes to conversation, nearly anything goes from your favorite brands and political opinions to gay marriage and gun rights. Users of social media are influencing nearly everything, including companies’ brands – and they’re doing it through their political beliefs, believe it or not. Remember not too long ago when Chick-Fil-A’s COO Dan Cathy made comments regarding his feeling about same-sex marriage? Gays were avoiding the popular fast food restaurant like the plague – and making their voices heard via social media. No doubt Mr. Cathy had no idea his political stance would start a firestorm that spread across the country!

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, clearly on the side of Mr. Cathy, then organized the “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” that ultimately flooded the restaurants with business across the country on August 1st, a huge boost in sales. This didn’t cause those who were offended by Chick-Fil-A’s stance to back down, however. The company suddenly found that expanding into communities which are more liberal such as Chicago wasn’t an easy task, and faced opposition in their efforts to obtain the permits necessary to run their restaurant in the community.

Eventually, Chick-Fil-A said they would “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” While this may have calmed the masses for a period, the fact is the cat was already out of the bag. Some people may now have an opinion that the privately held company is a bit wishy-washy, or simply states what it believes consumers want to hear. How did the debacle impact Chick-Fil-A when all was said and done? That’s a question we’ll likely never know the answer to.

Other well-known companies have come out in support of gay rights and same-sex couples, including Target, Oreo and JCPenney. Why haven’t these companies suffered the same consequences as Chick-Fil-A? Likely because they stood strong in their political views, and didn’t back down when consumers threatened boycotts. Additionally, it’s likely that these companies analyzed the potential impact before they took their positions, and found they had more to gain in the LGBT community than they had to lose.

The takeaway here? Transparency. Should your company take a political stance on certain issues through social media, or stay completely away from these topics? Weigh the risks and benefits. If you’re going to take one side or the other, know your target audience and where they stand on the subject, and make sure your position never wavers from the beginning. There’s one simple solution: know where your customers stand on the issues, and take their side – or remain neutral on the subject.

Eric Samuel Chapman is an Internet Marketing & Interactive Advertising specialist from Howell, Michigan. You can also find him at www.ericsamuelchapman.com