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Politics and Other Taboo Topics for Your Utility

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
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  • Aug 17, 2022
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Even though the general election is more than 2½ months away, and many people are on vacation or savoring the last few days before school resumes, politicians are ramping up their activities.

Press conferences, press events and press releases are coming at us hot and heavy -- and it’s only going to get worse as we get closer to November (even if it isn’t a presidential election year).

What, you might wonder, does this have to do with your utility?

Well, the leaders elected might end up having a say in how your utility is regulated, but that’s not the bigger concern.

The bigger concern is your social media feed.

Plenty of organizations these days connect to their customers via social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or something else. And those organizations often veer off their main message to address topical issues.

Sometimes, it’s harmless, such as when you wish everyone a happy Fourth of July or link to your energy-saving tips on a day when the local mercury hits 100 degrees.

Other times, you’re treading on dangerous ground because you might inadvertently offend a chunk of your customer base.

Politics is the perfect example. These days, seemingly everyone is polarized to some degree. Who among us hasn’t lost a friend or had a relative not speak to them because they voted for the “wrong” party? There’s no room for compromise.

That’s why your utility should never endorse or condemn a political candidate, even when said candidate has your best or worst interests at heart.

And when it comes to social media, outside of maybe a “don’t forget to vote” post, avoid mentioning politics at all. You simply can’t win.

That said, you can’t always avoid politics, especially when it applies to regulatory issues, rate increases and so on. Be as transparent and as neutral as you can while still expressing your viewpoint.

Accentuate the positive, and avoid criticism of opposing points of view. While you may want to recognize key supporters, do that outside of the public eye.

What else should you avoid? How any issue that potentially divides the public? Most of these are political flashpoints anyway; the perpetual Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a perfect example.

Another flashpoint, as I just mentioned, is anything involving religion. Wars have been fought throughout time because of religion. There’s nothing to be gained by discussing it outside of generic greetings come holiday time.

The same holds true with anything that might be deemed NSFW, unprofessional or overly personal. Most people might not mind even a slightly risqué post, but your utility is not in a position to be edgy. When it comes to all posts, keep your grandmother in mind. Would she be offended by anything you say?

Keep the silly stuff to a minimum, too. Social media is awash with all sorts of nonsense. Linking to a guy who made the Batmobile out of butter isn’t something your audience needs to see.

And avoid any criticisms of your clients, even the biggest pain in the neck who can never be satisfied. It’s better that they are recognized for what they are, which usually is readily apparent.

This doesn’t mean your social media feeds need to be boring. Good feeds can engage their audiences by discussing topics that aren’t even related to electrical power

Good utility social media feeds may engage audiences by discussing topics that have nothing to do with electricity. Things such as popular community events, holidays, pets and food tend to draw a lot of attention.

So do things such as March Madness, albeit with one caution: Watch out for rivalries involving your local institutions. If, for example, you are a utility located in Oklahoma, picking the University of Texas to go far is a bad idea.

In terms of the number of posts, remember the boy who cried wolf. If you post too often, nobody will pay attention. Conversely, if you post too little, nobody will pay attention either.

All of this post boils down to one thing: Use common sense when it comes to social media. It offers you a great opportunity to highlight your utility, but take pains to avoid the many pitfalls that regularly make it a modern-day Tower of Babel.

Finally, be accurate. Posts with typos and errors reflect badly on your utility. Running a spell-checker or using Grammarly only takes a minute. But remember that things like spell check don’t always catch everything, especially when words are similar, such as there, they’re and their.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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