Sunday, October 2, 2016

Here's How You Can (and Perhaps Should) Talk About the 2016 Election on LinkedIn

Let's start by acknowledging that we're all sick of the 2016 campaign and the bickering that has accompanied it for more than a year now. Nevertheless, I'm going to suggest you can and perhaps should engage in political dialog here on LinkedIn.

Many people complain that politics has no place on LinkedIn. They're wrong. Your employer sponsors or contributes money to Political Action Committees (PACs) and pays for lobbyists to influence elections and political decisions for good reason: Politics impacts business. The next president of the United States will make decisions on personal and corporate taxation, government debt, government spending, business regulation, international trade, employment law, minimum wage, education, and the laws that govern intellectual property, the internet, employee benefits, commerce and other aspects of business.

If you would feel comfortable posting on LinkedIn about changes in inflation or employment data, then you should feel comfortable discussing how the candidates' platforms will impact inflation and employment. If you'd post on LinkedIn about regulation in your industry, then you should have no problem offering a fair and informed point of view on how the candidates may differ on issues of regulation.

Politics is business, and business is politics. The next person to occupy the Oval Office will affect the business climate, your industry, your company, your income, your career and your retirement. He or she will also change the course of your children's and grandchildren's education, job prospects and ability to earn a living in the increasingly competitive and automated world economy. Not only does this make this year's election an appropriate topic for LinkedIn, it is hard to imagine a more important business topic than who the country elects on Tuesday, November 8th.

I'm not suggesting you have an obligation to discuss politics on LinkedIn--that is a decision we each need to make for ourselves--but we should consider and feel free to do so. There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to discuss politics in a professional network, so if you choose to discuss the business implications of this year's election, do it right and mitigate the risks.

To Discuss Politics on LinkedIn, Make It Relevant Professionally

LinkedIn is a professional network, so there are several ways to make a discussion of the 2016 campaign appropriate:
  • Your business is politics: If you are a lobbyist or are employed by a campaign, then politics is your business and posts about your business are suitable. Keep in mind, however, that as with all communications, you should focus on the needs of your audience. Offer content as relevant as possible to others' employment, business and careers.
  • You believe a candidate will have an impact on your occupation or industry: If you believe there are substantive differences between the policies of the candidates that will affect your professional field or business category, say so. If you anticipate that one candidate will be better than the other for tech, for the legal profession or for financial services, offer your perspective and back it up with data, analysis, and links.
  • You perceive one candidate will be significantly better for the overall economy: The next president of the United States will hold great sway over whether the country's economy grows, stagnates or shrinks. If you believe there are differences between the candidates that could increase the likelihood of a recession, trade war, growth in deficits, bear stock market or other adverse business outcomes, that is a proper topic for a professional network. 

How to Mitigate Risks With Talking Politics on LinkedIn

Talking politics can increase professional risks, such as causing an argument with a peer, losing connections or altering reputation. Of course, talking politics can also bring benefits--you may influence others' opinion or vote, demonstrate your ability to tackle tough topics in an appropriate way, display your knowledge and interest in a topic and perhaps even gain new followers.

You should carefully consider what is right for you and, should you choose to, engage carefully and appropriately in the following manner:

  • Be professional: On LinkedIn, all political discussions must be in the context of business, careers, and jobs. Policies on taxes, commerce, and business regulation are appropriate, candidates' marital histories are not. Avoid the many social issues (or personality differences) that separate the candidates. Tell people why it matters to their careers or companies. 
  • Be dispassionate: Bring the same manner to politics you would any topic on LinkedIn. Don't be angry. Don't call names. Don't make value judgments. Don't generalize. Don't ascribe evil intent or lack of intelligence to candidates or others. Simply tell people what you believe and why you believe it.
  • Be measured: Post about politics sparingly and keep it brief. Striving to inform people on an important business topic is in bounds; flooding their stream and annoying them is not, no matter how deeply you feel. Keep your status updates diverse to convey your breadth and depth as a balanced professional.
  • Be direct: As with all writing, your first sentences are crucial. Don't bury the lede. Don't start with an apology that people don't like politics on LinkedIn. Remember that in their stream, people will only see the first two or three sentences before your post is truncated. Make them count--use those sentences wisely to let them know why they should care to read more. Respect people's time and get to the point.
  • Be factual: Select political topics that can be introduced and discussed based on facts, not opinions. How a candidate's policies may impact businesses and careers is relevant; whether you like or trust a candidate is not. Write from the brain, not the gut. Demonstrate to people you are a clear, rational and exacting thinker. 
  • Be objective: Avoid bias to the extent possible. To do so, find links from reliable sources. Rely on trusted business media and bypass the many online sources on the right and left that prejudice their spin on the news. Give people a reason to believe your perspective. 
  • Be open-minded: Don't simply broadcast your point of view but welcome all responses. Invite challenges and be willing to engage and ready to change your opinion. Conclude your political posts with questions that ask if people agree or how they may see the topic differently. Leave people with the impression you are confident in your point of view but welcome discussion.
  • Control yourself: Political topics can be emotional. Don't respond to a comment while angry. Do not hesitate to step away from the PC or phone and review a potential answer later with a clearer mind. Don't be lured into a reply you will regret. Use "and," not "but" ("Thanks for the response and..." not "Thanks for the response but...") Strive to make your political dialog the example of how people can discuss sensitive discussions in our politically divided environment. 
  • Be in control: Do not hesitate to delete someone's comment if it crosses the line or to report a comment if it is abusive. It's still your post and your feed. You have an obligation to allow dissent, not to provide yet another online platform for abuse, bullying or vulgarity. Tolerate disagreement but moderate the tenor and professionalism of the dialog.
  • Be fair: Treat everyone the same. If you thank people who agree with you, thank the ones who do not. If you reprimand a dissenter for calling your favored candidate a name that this crosses a line, you must do the same to a supporter who uses a slur against another candidate. Take responsibility rather than assign blame by saying, "I may have failed to convey..." rather than "You don't understand..." Focus on the ideas, not the person by saying, "Can you share a link to that information?" rather than "I don't believe you." Leave everyone feeling heard and valued.
  • Be willing to retreat: You won't convince all the people all the time. Engage with those who have a different perspective, but be willing to end a discussion when it stops being productive. Agree to disagree, allow others to have the last word, acknowledge you have different perspectives and thank dissenters for their contributions. Don't let pride get the best of you--remember, you're posting to educate, not to win. 
One last suggestion involving politics and LinkedIn: You are going to see some political posts on the professional network in the next five weeks. If a person is posting about political matters in a business context, do not criticize or complain. And if someone posts about politics in an inappropriate manner, do not provide disparaging feedback in a comment since that only surfaces the post to all of your LinkedIn connections. Instead, if you see truly inappropriate political posts, either reach out the poster privately or use the small down arrow on the upper right corner of the post to "Report this update."

Talking politics on LinkedIn may not be the right course of action for you, and if that's your choice, I respect your decision. But I also respect those who care to engage on political topics that matter to business and do so in the proper way. After all, if the founder of LinkedIn is willing to talk politics on LinkedIn, why shouldn't the rest of us?

Why I Believe You Should Consider a Vote For Hillary Clinton

Having made my case for dispassionate, relevant and open political dialog, I am going to take this opportunity to suggest why you should vote for Hillary Clinton this year. You may feel more strongly about issues other than the president's impact on business, and that is your prerogative, but if you care about the economy and jobs, I believe the choice is clear:

I welcome your feedback, both to the idea of business-focused political dialog on LinkedIn and my reasoning for believing Hillary Clinton would be better for our economy, our companies and our jobs. Either way, please follow the rules. Keep the dialog professional and respectful. If you disagree, back it up with facts and links.

I will attempt to walk the talk, and if I don't, you should call me on it. We all have something to learn, both about civil political discourse and the outcome of this year's presidential race.

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