Hot potato on grill with flames

Cool Down a Hot Potato Topic

Did anyone make it through election season without getting purple in the face in reaction to a friend’s social media post? The arguments and insults got incredibly intense this year, straining both friendly and family relationships.

When feelings run that hot, businesses need to be especially sensitive about any communications that touch on politics. Yes, it is absolutely the right of any company to express support or opposition of a candidate or issue if they choose to. On the other hand, no company wants to wade into those waters accidentally and cause rifts in its customer base or vendor relationships.

Yet that can be tricky when federal regulations have an impact on an industry. I work with healthcare and transportation clients. Each operates under regulations that can be political hot potatoes, so it’s important when I’m writing a news item, blog post or profile to keep a few things in mind to ensure that content informs, not inflames, the reader.

Stick to the story

Let’s say I’m interviewing someone at a medical facility about their job and they bring up difficulties they experience due to the Affordable Care Act. Their frustration may be absolutely real, but unless I talk to multiple people, as far as I know it is one person’s experience.

So the first assessment: Is it an important part of the story we want to tell, or will the article be complete without it? If there’s no need to include a controversial topic, leave it out. Making the employee’s opinion public could put them in an uncomfortable position with colleagues or supervisors. More important, if an unrelated political view becomes the point that readers focus on, the message that you want heard gets lost.

Use quotes, aim for balance

One of the big issues in the trucking industry right now is the mandated use of electronic logging devices. The intent — to increase safety by keeping an accurate record of driving hours — is not universally accepted as true, and many people see the costs outweighing the benefits. The mandate has an impact on many other industry topics, so avoiding the issue is nearly impossible.

The best approach in a situation like this is to use quotes and attributions when a strong opinion is expressed. Don’t state an opinion as a fact in your copy. And whenever possible, present the other side of the argument, ideally through another expert’s statement on the issue.

Be very careful about humor

This can really trip you up. That presumably innocent joke everyone chuckled over in the office may well enrage people if you post it on Twitter. Before sharing a joke about current events with the public, stop and think. Does it rely on stereotypes? If it was aimed at you or your political candidate/party/cause, would you bristle? Any doubt? Keep it out.

Think before you publish

It just takes a moment. Be sensitive to how readers can interpret your words. Be sure you are saying what you want to say.