I recently hosted a panel discussion with Podcamp Pittsburgh where the discussion was social media and politics.  Our panelists included a political blogger, an internet radio host and former council member, and a current Chief of Staff running to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat occupied by her boss who will not be rerunning.  The thought process behind the panel was to discuss some dos and don’ts as well as how people use different forms of social and new media to reach a particular audience.

I know that we have previously shared thoughts and comments about some basic dos and don’ts already as part of our weekly blog series.  However, there was some discussion that came into play during the social media and politics panel that I wanted to touch upon myself – from the perspective of a business owner.

Think about social media.  I’m talking blog posts, podcasts, YouTube videos, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.  For all intents and purposes, you can also include e-mail.  These are standard forms of contact between a business owner and their customers, clients, and audience.  If you tweet something from your business Twitter account, either on purpose or by accident, it sets a standard for you as a business.  While this may not seem like a big deal, it can have some pretty heavy repercussions for how you are perceived as a result of your online voice.

1. Political Fodder

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion from our social media and politics panel was how much of an impact politics has played in people’s usage of social media.  Again, we’ve touched upon some of the ramifications of vocally supporting one side or the other in the currently divided state of American politics in previous posts.  By voicing support of one side or the other, you are drawing a line in the sand with regard to your audience.  It isn’t just a matter of whether you are for or against President Trump, either.  Our panel discussed some of the discourse  between Bernie and Hillary supporters in the primary, and how some friendships were affected as a result of which side they supported.

While you are certainly entitled to your own opinion regarding political topics, be aware that what you post online will be a point of judgment.  You run the risk of alienating not only friends, but potentially business contacts as well if your content can be construed as having a heavy tilt one way or the other.

2. Contact Hours

With this day and age of technology and instantaneous contact, it is important to define your working hours.  If a client or customer reaches out to you via Twitter at 1:00 in the morning, are you going to respond at that hour?  While there are circumstances and situations that may require immediate attention at 1:00 am, it is important to define those particular circumstances and situations.  Plenty of companies utilize services to police after hours contact.  A local law firm here in Pittsburgh, for instance, has ads advertising that phones answer 24/7.  Do you think you’re speaking with the attorney when you call at 1:00 am?  Definitely not.  You’re speaking with an answering service or some other form of support staff who goes through a routine set of questions provided by the law firm to determine the urgency of the call.  If the call meets the proper set of criteria, you are put into touch with the on-call attorney.  If the call does not meet the criteria to be considered urgent, your message is forwarded to the office for handling during regular business hours.  The law firm defined which circumstances warrant after hours contact in an effort to create a boundary between business and personal time.  The same sort of services can be utilized for social media contact.  Twitter, for instance, can set a “do not disturb” sleep time where notifications will not push through to your phone during set hours.  You can also set an automated responses for Twitter (though this requires a little bit of app development versus clicking a button like the DND option).

While some people are happy replying to social media comments and questions whenever they come across their notifications, it can be important to have something in place to make sure you’re not always on Facebook responding to people interacting with your company.  Interaction is definitely a good thing, however it can be time consuming if not properly managed.

3. Separate Yourself

Just like you have your “business” persona and your “personal” persona, it can be important to have separate social media accounts.  While your business and personal personas may be similar, you have different social circles with each.  Another point of contention is that Facebook caps the number of followers an individual can have.  This is why you often see a public personality page on Facebook.  One of our panelists discussed how her current boss’ personal Facebook page blew up once she was in office.  It became difficult for her to manage actual family and friends who wanted to connect with her because her personal page reached the maximum number of followers she could have.  She had to create a public page and have her public followers move to that page.

Your business persona social media should be accessible to the public.  After all, you are using social media as a means for people to find you – and ultimately hire you.  By creating a business page separate from your personal page, you can still keep your personal page something that can be for family and close friends and colleagues.

While there were many other topics discussed during the panel, these were the three topics that stuck with me after-the-fact.  You can check out the video from the panel discussion through the Podcamp Pittsburgh YouTube page shortly.