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How business owners can navigate division

It's all about explaining the effects on your business without taking shots or sides, says Ada Slivinski.
Careful what you Like.

In the brief history of social media, it’s hard to think of a time when discourse online was so divisive.

Many are posting their views on touchy subjects like public health measures, vaccine mandates, and lockdowns, sharing photos and media stories that support those opinions. They’re also calling out those who don’t see the world the same way, often with hostility.

Many personal relationships have been fractured by the stress and division, but business owners have a unique challenge to navigate. Often, they’re relying on social media to attract and retain customers – even more so in the pandemic. While most of the public can take breaks from social media or mute those they don’t agree with, business marketing has to keep going. But what should business owners post, and how should they engage?

In Ottawa, some restaurants were called out online for remaining open to serve protesting truckers, while those who closed were criticized for discrimination. Posting purely promotional content can come across as out of touch, while taking a “side” can cut off potentially a large portion of your customer base.

The Grand Pizzeria for example called out some protesters' views as “disgusting,” in social media posts. This kind of strong language unfortunately opens them up to boycotts or potentially vandalism.

While it can seem impossible, the best approach is to keep a level head. Businesses that have been disproportionately affected by closures, like fitness studios and those in the wedding and events industries, have started taking a harder stand online after the latest round of restrictions, but their messaging is respectful, rational, and unified.

A group of Ottawa businesses has unified, calling for government support to help mitigate the lost revenue and have even started a GoFundMe campaign asking their patrons for support. This gives people a way to help - and voices concerns - without unintentionally calling out an entire group and sowing more division.

When weighing in on pandemic measures, being as specific as possible about exactly how you are being affected and what you’d like to see change helps. Getting too broad with messaging or making sweeping statements opens you up for criticism and battles you might not want to fight.

With so much vitriol online, many people are logging off, muting social platforms and taking breaks from engaging online. This is a double whammy for business owners. After many in-person opportunities for sales on hold due to Covid have come to rely on the online world almost exclusively.

Trying to break through the noise on social has not been easy over the past two years, and it’s only getting harder. Consistency is key as is getting creative with campaigns and leveraging influencer collaborations and traditional media outreach as much as possible.

Will it be like this forever? No. But what you say and do now matters and will shape the way your business grows in the future.

Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at [email protected]