Should You Take A Position On Controversial Issues On Social Media?

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that these days you have to watch what you say on social media – but this doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Every day someone seems to make another faux pas online, with a comment that dares to be out of sync with the mainstream take on the topic of the day (or even hour).

It’s never fun to wake up to find you’re now the centre of unwanted attention online. This, like most things, passes. But it’s not pleasant and something to be aware of so you don’t walk into an undignified situation.

This is happening so often these days that people move on pretty fast. But it’s important to make sure you tweet/facebook/Instagram with your eyes wide open as to the potential consequences.

As an entrepreneur using social media, you’ll want to attract as many followers in your target audience as possible.

To do this, you will need to work out why you are tweeting in the first place. What is your objective? Social media is great for PR and driving traffic to your site, but some established business owners will want to use it to develop their profile as someone with knowledge in their field, rather than to tweet out brand promotions all day.

Whatever your goal, you will need to know how to appeal to your target audience, not alienate them. Here’s what you need to know about whether you should take a position on  controversial issues on social media.

Know Who You Don’t Want To Offend

Too many brands and/or individuals fear courting controversy – or even simply expressing their viewpoint on a topic.

This is understandable if your career depends on maintaining a certain stance, but if that’s not the case, being too careful can come across as fake.

The kid at school who wants so desperately to be liked usually achieves the opposite. This is because at a visceral level people can sense people pleasers and don’t respect them. This can even come across online in the words you write.

There are many influencers who have built successful brands simply by courting controversy. While you don’t necessarily want to go down that route, you could be turning people off if you religiously stick to the accepted script.

Know thy audience. Know who you don’t want to offend, know their beliefs and how they will likely react if you upset them. Does your audience prioritise social justice? Animal rights? Is your target customer political and where are they based (on average)?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions you could unwittingly upset your core following. And you really don’t want to do that. Unless you do, but it needs to be a conscious decision. So make sure you do your homework and analyse which social media networks your target audience use, demographics and interests.

Be As Real As you possibly can

If you phrase your thoughts succinctly and with respect you’ll probably be fine even if you do express a somewhat controversial position. Expressing yourself honestly is good because people prefer real people rather than fake people.

Authenticity means you act in ways that show your true self and how you feel. To do this, you have to know who you are and what you stand for, and express yourself in a way that appeals to your followers, while also giving your opinion. Here are a few tips:

Show humility – if you are not entirely sure about a subject but have an opinion about it, there’s no shame in admitting this. Showing humility is refreshing.

Ask your followers what they think – seeking out the opinion of your audience can be a great way to connect with them and a good way of expressing your opinion without triggering a backlash.

Something like: “What do you think about xyz? My initial thoughts are xyz, but I am open to having my mind changed.”

Using quotes and retweets – if you prefer to make statements through other people’s words, the retweet or share button are good options. Retweeting something is a softer way of saying what you think. Quotes are also a nice way to make a point.

There’s a price for silence in the past staying quiet on contentious topics such as religion and politics was a given. In this day and age it can be more difficult and hard to avoid picking sides. If you have a very strong position on something and simply cannot say silent, it’s best to speak and take the consequences. The key point is to use judgement at all times.

Don’t tweet late at night or while under the influence- Enough said.

  •          When you are starting out, engagement is vital in order to build your audience and reputation. If you have an opinion on a particular issue and you put it out there, people will generally respond in good faithand it’s good to reply back where you can.

This could be a response to an advertising campaign you run, a product slogan, or just a tweet/facebook post you put out about a particular subject. You could also interact with those who have similar values to you, through liking their content, sharing/retweeting, or commenting.

The ‘Provocateur’ Method

Some people are professional provocateurs. This antagonistic style can work and they can build profiles and followings doing it. Sometimes they have built a brand from scratch by being controversial. Or they have such huge followings already and can afford to offend occasionally. This probably isn’t you.

Bear in mind that running a social media account is an art, not a science. One good way of learning is to follow someone you admire. Work out why they are popular and why their online profile works so well. Equally, look at accounts that don’t appeal to you and think about why they don’t. It’s likely that the latter are dull and the former are honest, engaging and sometimes controversial in the right way. 

So should you take a controversial position on social media? The answer is if you want and you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and it’s worth it. This is something only you can decide.

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