Stumping for Votes or Stomping on Customers?

An array of campaign signs, bearing business slogans like "Vote Commerce."

In today's social-media-dominated world, it can be tough separating an individual from the brand he or she represents. But regardless of whether your business is 100 per cent private, or beholden to government grants, painting your brand in your party's colours is rarely a good decision.

Like any business' branding efforts, politics is all about the message. To keep the positive focus on your brand, you should consider remaining politically apolitical.

In Ontario, we're in the midst of a political by-election, which will be decided today. And one of the contested ridings is in Digital Echidna's home town of London. On-line and off, the great Canadian pastime of political is in full force. Some are raising their voices to support their chosen candidate (or denounce their opposition). 

So what better time than to discuss what opinion should a business express? And can people draw the distinction between the personal and professional?

Should an institution that receives public funding plant a sign on its lawn? Should a privately-held business hang a campaign poster from its windows? Should the writer of a corporate social media feed endorse a candidate or a party?

No, no, and no. While businesses should be political, but they must do so by remaining apolitical.

Businesses have a responsibility to the communities in which they're based to be active in defining policy and working with all levels of government to enact legislation and remove barriers to promote business growth. They have an obligation to stand up for the needs of their industries, provide alternative solutions, and lend their expertise to the discussion at hand. The extent of a political message should be one that involves working to better the business environment as a whole, independent of who is in office.

Essentially, the discussion must focus on the policy, not the personal.

Most businesses or organizations have someone at the top, whether that's an owner, an executive director, a president, a chair, who, like all of us, has his or her own leanings. But most organizations are composed of various people who all have different beliefs, different values, and different priorities. Like the community, or the country, as a whole, the strength of any business comes from that diversity.

That separation can be a challenge with social media. Many of us our out there, sharing our thoughts, responding to issues, and challenging our beliefs. Personally, I'm not affiliated with any part, but it's fair to say that by reading my past content, you can form an idea of where I stand on some issues. And the same can be said for any of our staff who have social media presences.

But in no way should any individual's opinion become representative of the corporation, or vice versa.

It's likely that the political affiliations or leanings of the Digital Echidna staff spans the entire spectrum from right to left. I don't know because it doesn't matter. Our politics shouldn't influence our work.

The potential reward for draping your business in the party flag is minimal at best, but the risks are great. The fact is that many people are hyperpartisan, so by wrapping yourself in a political colour, you're only serving to alienate that potential customer base. It can also make employees uncomfortable – a feeling that they may be tacitly endorsing a political belief to which they don't ascribe.

When you're making a widget, quality isn't defined by the political party you support. It's defined by the quality of your efforts.

Success comes down to being political whilst remaining apolitical. Regardless of what party is in power, you're going to have to work with them. By focusing on actively participating in the policies that affect your organization – either independently, through a Chamber of Commerce, or in negotiations during planning sessions – businesses need to focus on working with everyone to ensure a healthy, prosperous, and encouraging environment that allows for citizens to live and thrive as employees.

That's something we can all get behind, regardless of your political leanings.

Questions Answered

What role should politics play in my business?

Should I have a political party's sign on my business' property?

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