Why You Should Post About Politics

Sep 13th

Jim recently asked if he should post about politics on his blog. Rand recently posted why he thinks politics should stay out of your content. I strongly disagree with Rand's position. Why?

  • Almost anything that I have been told was stupid to write, I also had others tell me that they thought it was cool. To me, I would much rather ensure I was memorable over avoiding risk.

  • When you go outside of the conventional framework of what you are expected to do you are probably going to be more memorable than when you subscribe to a framework that everyone else subscribes to.
  • People who have a strong emotional appeal to what you write are going to be far more likely to remember you and/or want to talk to you. Most others will just let it go.
  • People subscribe to their own biases. We are constantly seeking things which reinforce our worldviews and identities. As long as you are fairly rational with what you write, those who disagree with it will usually tune it out. Those who agree with it will be more likely to remember it.
  • People use language (and thus search) using queries that will likely indicate their biased worldviews. Thus they are not as likely to find your opinion if your political views differ from their own.
  • People are more likely to link at things they can identify with. Just look at the most popular political blogs. Most of them are extremely biased.
  • Many political bloggers are link rich. If you can create something that they will link at you soon will be too.
  • People are more likely to link at thinks they think are totally screwed up. Even if people think your position is full of crap they may cite it because they want to say just how wrong you are.
  • Politics generally is nothing but marketing and a game of double speak. The very fact that people react to it emotionally shows how strong the marketing is and how strongly people identify with it. It is important to understand how that language relates to marketing.
  • If you let fears control your actions then you are guaranteed to produce watered down stuff.
  • If you are full of crap in your worldview and have intelligent readers who care about you then audience feedback will help you quickly see other ways of viewing the world.

The four potential downsides with occasionally posting on politics and religion I have encountered thusfar are

  • It may cost you some top down support, but I think it will get you more bottoms up support from people who find it easy to identify with who you are and where you come from. The bottoms up support will more than make up for the lack of top down support if you are small and passionate.

  • If you post about politics too frequently it could alter the perception of your brand to be more about politics than your core value.
  • You get death threats, etc. Some idiot has already offered me a dual. hehehe
  • The death threats and ideological asshats may start to eat up some of your time and attention, and try their best to undermine your views of humanity and evolution.

But in the end, do I really want to help this person spread their belief system and control my life? Nope.

On Rand's blog he mentioned

The current political environment has exacerbated sterotypes and tensions in the political spectrum such that overarching assumptions about a person's qualities are built around even the smallest admission of idealogical leanings. For example, in the US specifically, those who put themselves far to the right of the political spectrum may create stereotypes of amorality, anti-family attitudes and military appeasement for those on the left. In the reverse, the accusations might be homophobia, racism, close-mindedness & lack of education. When you claim political affiliations of any kind, some of your readers/clients/colleagues are prone to jump to these type of conclusions.

There is an endless stream of amoral profit driven sources that will try to use fear to control your activities so that they may gain further wealth and influence. Why subscribe to thought control? Why let the close-mindedness and ignorance of others limit how you express yourself? I took to the web precisely because I didn't want to let others control my actions, how I express myself, or what I could say.

Only a couple hundred years ago slavery was an accepted practice here in the land of the free. Things are able to become much worse and take a much longer time to get better if people are afraid to talk about them. When you need to be a comedian to be honest doesn't it mean there is something wrong with our perspective of the world?

I probably post political stuff a bit more often than I should if I were focused on optimal conversion. I think if you do something rarely, but do it really well then you really get to drive home your desired message. Like take Danny Sullivan when he roasts Google or another engine. He is typically so mild mannered that when he roasts them you are pretty certain they deserve it. Or take Keith Olberman's recent take on the president. It really doesn't get much better than that.

We are all human, and thus are all biased and hypocritical, so of course we are going to look stupid to some of the people some of the time, but at least they looked. Feel free to throw stones and/or flames below ;)

Update: Paul Graham has a cool article called What You Can't Say, from which I will quote:

Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?

If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think whatever you're told.

...

If you believe everything you're supposed to now, how can you be sure you wouldn't also have believed everything you were supposed to if you had grown up among the plantation owners of the pre-Civil War South, or in Germany in the 1930s-- or among the Mongols in 1200, for that matter? Odds are you would have.

....

obviously false statements might be treated as jokes, or at worst as evidence of insanity, but they are not likely to make anyone mad. The statements that make people mad are the ones they worry might be believed. I suspect the statements that make people maddest are those they worry might be true.

....

I think many interesting heretical thoughts are already mostly formed in our minds. If we turn off our self-censorship temporarily, those will be the first to emerge.

Thinking outside the framework others set up, predict, and control is what allows you to create your own for profit framework (and by profit I do not mean only money).

Published: September 13, 2006

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Comments

September 14, 2006 - 5:24pm

Aaron,

Now that is a statement I can get behind. When the poltical topic in question had a direct impact on your business, then I can understand blogging about it. For example, if I ran a local bowling alley and cardroom, this legislation impacts the business (and the local community), so blogging about how it is affecting me is certainly justified.

However, I think this is also an exception (albeit a brilliant one).

September 19, 2006 - 2:33am

Been thinking this over. I don't often post on politics in spite of having an extensive background in political studies. Maybe that's because I learned you need to have eight chapters of literature review, history, and facts, and three chapters of case study, before you get to write the two chapters with the conclusions. It's easy to dump on obvious miserable failures -- much harder to imagine and/or implement a better or perfect world, at any level.

What I think about this is that you can and should stand up as courageously as you can when there is a real back to the wall issue that is being misunderstood, or where groupthink or misinformation seems to be creeping in somehow.

You don't have to do that specifically on your blog or your "organ," but wherever conversation occurs.

I'm thinking specifically of debates on DOJ requests for private search data that arose over at SE Watch Forums:
http://forums.searchenginewatch.com/showthread.php?t=9701&page=1&pp=20

As I say, I rarely get involved, because some of my best friends are Republicans (really, you guys crack me up sometimes - and belong to my fantasy football pool and stuff), and I get to talk about these things with my spouse, who teaches at the postsecondary level and lets me read the paper while we communicate about political matters with hand signals we developed years ago.

But there do seem to be some issues -- perhaps different for everyone -- where perspective and backbone are needed to save us from ourselves. Man is a political animal. Vote now. Vote often.

"Ethics" may be a slightly different matter from politics, but not entirely. "Ethics," to some, seem out of place in a world of pure business. But we all know we absolutely need to turn down certain types of business we're not comfortable with. We all know we need to turn down money that has strange strings attached. So most times in business we do limit our total intake of cash based on comfort level. The average expert in our field probably far exceeds the compassion compass and ethical GPS taught in today's "business ethics" courses. In other words, left to their own devices, people spend more of their own cash on lifestyle and conviction choices than they do when taught how to be ethical in our business schools.

Most people choose conviction over cash, at least some of the time. However, few can make a steady diet of it, least of all the bling-loving people on this thread. I defend to the death my right to a slightly nicer brand of stain for my fence, and high quality shirts purchased at an online store at slight discounts over the same quality purchased in a fancy men's store. Only a crazed, Puritanical, !@#!%%! conservative would deny me that.

Contradictorily,

Andrew

September 19, 2006 - 6:09am

Andrew Goodman stops by and hits a homerun.

I always love when you make posts like those on your blog Andrew. :)

September 20, 2006 - 8:14pm

Hi Aaron!

I'd have to definitely highlight the fact that it doesn't matter what your blog says.. as long as its transparent and it speaks directly from the heart.

I failed to realised this earlier and just now I'm revamping my entire blog to be more interactive and community like.

Also, I'm all about telling my failures and my successes to balance it all out now.. ;)

Have a great week!

September 13, 2006 - 2:38pm

Great post, I could not agree more. It's okay for people to have opinions that do not match your own as long as you are respectful of each other. The key to blogging is that it's not spin like marketing and PR. Anything that points to spin results in a reader not taking you seriously. When world events happen, we need to acknowledge them and put out our point of view. It assists readers in understanding the person behind the blog. It's transparency. I don't think it's as risky as NOT doing so. Fear is not a strategy.

Respectfully,
Doug

September 13, 2006 - 3:32pm

I for one always avoid any kind of controversy or political issues on my blog. People just aren't interested in that stuff, no one ever comments on it, and you definitely won't get any links out of it.

Dry and bland is the only way to sell.

September 13, 2006 - 4:49pm

I don't deny that you make some excellent points, Aaron. Here's my issue ... how does any of this benefit the BUSINESS? I don't mind discussing politics in my personal blog, because it's just my voice. In a professional blog, it's not just your voice ... you speak on behalf of the company as well. So how does participating in the political echo chamber create any benefit? It's not transparency, it's grabbing the third rail. It's not spin, it's avoiding a topic that you know that no good will come from. Blogging and transparency is about bringing customers into the fold and making them feel like part of something. ALL of your customers, not just the ones that believe the same things you do.

"People subscribe to their own biases. We are constantly seeking things which reinforce our worldviews and identities. As long as you are fairly rational with what you write, those who disagree with it will usually tune it out. Those who agree with it will be more likely to remember it."

This is the problem ... blogging is about adding to the conversation. By their nature, both politics and religion are belief systems, and it's very rare that anything new could ever be added to a conversation on these topics. People are not as accepting of challenges to a belief system as they are more rational ideas, which is why open debate works for stuff like SEO and not as much for stuff like politics.

I think the problem is that work blogs frequently blur the lines between personal and professional, mostly to add to the humanizing effect that blogs can have on a company. I'm not even sure that this debate is about politics, really ... but about how much personal stuff is prudent to add to a professional blog. Where do you draw the line? This isn't about thought control or self-censorship as much as it is about making the right business decision for your company.

September 13, 2006 - 4:56pm

Aaron - Last night I thought my opinion on this was fairly solid, but reading your piece and recalling some of your excellent posts that dealt with the subject (sometimes slyly, through links), I'm beginning to think that maybe you're in the right.

It could also be that you've got less to lose and are willing to take the risk, where I am not. Or, that you're simply a braver man than I.

Keep up the great work, the interjection of your views and I'll stay a fan. Maybe, one day, SEOmoz will follow in your footsteps.

September 13, 2006 - 4:57pm

Never one to shy away from a political debate, I would echo Rob's points, and to a lesser extent Rand's.

I think every person should write about politics, speak about politics, and participate in the system. Voicing your opinions is not only your right as an American, but your duty as well.

However, a business blog is probably not the place to do it. Business and politics are just a bad mix.

Why not use a subdomain for another blog where you can host all of your political stuff? That way people who are interested in the business stuff wouldn't have to deal with the political stuff, and people who wanted access to your views on politics would have easy access.

September 13, 2006 - 6:49pm

I like to debate politics and have done so in various soap boxes for years. I think personal blogs are a great place for those kind of topics, but a company blog? I do not think that would be wise even on a subdomain of that company domain. If you start to spin your perspectives in a political fashion to your consumer base, it could be a disaster. Not everyone is going to feel and think the sae way about things especially political issues. For my niche, more specifically, for my company domains, having any kind of political spin could cut profits deeply. Like I said, i feel political discussions have a place, but not on a company blog IMHO.

September 13, 2006 - 7:15pm

Sheesh, what a thoughtful post Aaron!
I understand the fears and have some of them myself. Yet I can't help but think the problem is that people haven't learned how to listen to other views and perspectives without passing judgement on the opinioner.

The impulse is to respond with, "No. That's wrong. What I believe is the right thing."

Another hazard is that some writers can't write an opinion without also forcing it down readers' throats with slanted writing, fear tactics, distorted information, and emotional influence. Therefore, the reaction is understandably knee-jerk. A lot of political writers do this.

Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? is a great guide for writing, and for a reader to respond they object to. However, it likely doesn't attract traffic because scandal is way more juicy.

September 13, 2006 - 8:02pm

Uggh.... polictics. We get enough of that stuff on 'what used to be known as the news'.

Take the high road here and avoid em.

September 13, 2006 - 8:35pm

Kim,

I think the crux of the issue lies in this sentence ...

"The impulse is to respond with, 'No. That's wrong. What I believe is the right thing.'"

That's because you're not dealing with any sort of opinion based on rational analysis, by and large. You're dealing with a belief structure, and most people take any contrary view as an attack. Belief structures aren't as easily changed, either ... so debate is far more agonizing. The phrase "crisis of faith" came about because changing your beliefs in indeed a crisis moment.

Note that I'm in no way saying that open debate in regards to political (and religious) ideology shouldn't happen. I just maintain that a company blog is a completely inappropriate venue for it, if the goal of the blog is to build community and foster a positive relationship between the company and its customers.

September 13, 2006 - 9:37pm

Rob,

I hear you. Your comments reminded me of a blog post I read elsewhere today, about blog communicaiton techniques. They were compared to marital relationships and how couples communicate (or don't.)

Then, I saw the picture in my mind of a marriage counselor trying to teach a married couple how to talk/listen to each other.

Blogs are not marriages, I know. But, some of them may be so popular they become like committed relationships. There's a risk of breakups :)

September 13, 2006 - 10:19pm

Aaron, great post. Even though I agree with you I can also understand Rand. Here is why.

When you have a "brand" or a business in a public eye, things you say will get out and politics is a hot subject that can get you into the hot waters as fast as it can actually get you links.

Does politics posts help with SEO ... yes. Is it a way to go for all company blogs, etc? .... Maybe. or It depends.

People feel strongly about their views of the world and if you say something that they don't agree with ... well, there is a little chance this person will want to hire you or use your brand.

I once posted about the war in Iraq and it's justified. http://www.bizmord.com/Blog/archives/113

.... now, I didn't really go too much into the left or the right side. I did stay true to my beliefs but they didn't spark a fire. Maybe because I am right...? Yes, that's it.

September 13, 2006 - 10:30pm

I think politics is heavily involved with business, thus at the least analyzing it is worthwhile. Why does Alan Meckler care so much about US gaming laws, for example?

The USA endorses lotteries, horse racing, gambling casinos, bingo parlors and many other forms of gambling. And we will know that illegal numbers games have been thriving in American inner cities for years. We also know that hundreds of millions are wagered illegally every day on professional and college sports. Gambling is here to stay. Therefore legalize online gambling so American business is not at a disadvantage against overseas business operators.

The BUSINESS benefit to rational discussion of topics that are generally irrational is that those discussions may lead to additional citations and mindshare. Plus, even if you lose small small bit of business in the short term, you are still doing your part to prevent others from thinking that their voice could and should be marginalized.

I think I am heavily biased by my own experience, so while this is a quite personal site, this is also sorta my company blog.

If I had many more employees and the blog was important to lead generation I might be less willing to take risks, but then I guess maybe that is part of the reason why I have few employees and few people relying on me (and other passive revenue streams), so that I can speak my opinion without fearing how it may hurt others. :)

But I do rank for some stuff that I know I shouldn't rank for, and it is kinda humbling and/or weird to see my stuff rank for things where I feel my knowledge is limited. It is a give and take, but that is what comments are for.

September 13, 2006 - 11:19pm

I think that the key element here isn't politics, its the belief system. There is a good reason why Dr. Andrew Conru's AdultFriendFinder also has a Christian cousin, BigChurch.com.

A lot of commenters have posted about business benefits. Many marketers exploit the hell out of their iaudience's belief system. Is that ethical? Of course not.

If your belief system is in the minority, as in Scientology or Fundamentalist Morman Church -- its probably better to keep quiet. If your belief system isn't so quacky, and you can use it to demonstrate your trustworthiness or intelligence, by all means do it. If you misuse it, well then its just going to destory the equity you've worked to build up in your own name like many televangilists managed to do.

November 9, 2008 - 2:26am

Hi

Firstly, I am here as I have a strange problem - it may correct itself, but maybe not. About a week ago I decided to target the USA more on my website (it is health and fitness, and had general articles and celebrity workouts etc.) Last week I posted an article entitled "Why Arnold Schwarzenegger is Good for California" which just talks about health care and fitness in schools. On election day I wrote "Barack Obama’s Fitness for President" which detailed what he does to stay fit - running, basketball etc. etc. Neither were "political" as such, they were just about what these people do to stay fit / in Arnie's case why he is good for California (in the sense he was a bodybuilder/actor, not regarding his political leaning).

Anyway, to cut to the chase, both of these articles have dropped from Google SERPS. No other noticeable changes. Other articles written either side of these are still there.

Is this a case of automatic censorship? The articles have been banned because they may be political? Have you ever seen anything like this before?

Cheers

Jon.

November 9, 2008 - 8:47am

New pages regularly go into and out of the search results...due to being temporarily dropped from the index or a change in rankings.

November 9, 2008 - 11:53am

Cheers, hopefully they will indeed come back! Just seems odd that the other new articles, written just before and just after are listed still. It just looked like the posts on political figures were dropped. Conspiracy!

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