The scenario is on the minds of leaders at companies large and small going into Election 2020. “What do we do about employees combining our brand with their opinions during the most divisive election season this country has seen in decades?” Organizations envision their customers being turned off on either end of the spectrum as employees are ’out there’ waving the banner for the ‘other side.’ And what if your organization becomes largely associated with one side or the other?Are Harley Davidson employees assumed to be part of “Bikers for Trump?” What about Subaru drivers – are they all Bernie fans? And on and on it can go. It’s frightening if you’re out there just trying to sell a product or service and don’t care to get into the middle of a battle.
You can see the possibilities coming up in a hundred different ways. Let’s imagine employees or independent sales reps who happily let the world know they love working at your company through social media channels (good thing) then also end up leading the charge in some wildly divisive conversations on the same channels (bad thing). Now what? Don’t they enjoy freedom of speech? If they do it on the own time, there’s nothing that can be done, right?
Well, I am being asked to provide workshops and talks on this topic and I believe there are things an employer can do to help maintain a wall between this very tricky, argument-inducing arena and the independent nature of most public organizations. From churches to consumer products brands, smart leaders need to be thinking about how they plan to address this topic. Here are a few of my thoughts:
The Comfort of Your Own Home Dilemma: In the past, if you were going to take part in a social movement it meant you got out of your house. You marched. You protested. You got arrested supporting your cause. Now that same kind of passion can happen from the ‘comfort of your own home.’ Almost without knowing it you can be part of a ‘movement.’ Should you absentmindedly ‘Like’ something you may be declaring yourself a fan of a whole set of values without realizing it. We are all susceptible to this dilemma and it means more thought needs to go into what we do from the ‘comfort of your own home.’
Our brands are tied together: A friendly reminder must be delivered to employees on a regular basis, emphasizing this point. To some degree, when employees sign on with a company, they share the brand. Outsiders can see you as one-in-the-same. When a visible employee becomes identified with one side or the other in a national battle there are consequences that can impact everyone. And this is not new. (Look up the case of Florida Orange Juice and Anita Bryant from the 1970’s.) The difference is today it can happen quickly and spread nationally. Employees must realize they share more than a payroll department – the very existence of their paycheck is tied to the strength of the company brand – and everyone plays a part
Freedom of Speech: Yes, we all enjoy freedom of speech in this country, but employees can be encouraged to separate their work world from their opinion worlds. It’s when the two worlds collide that things can get complicated and social media just makes it a lot easier.
Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.