Does politics have a place on your community?

political debates on forumsThe recent presidential election was billed as the social media election, with both main candidates using social media to promote themselves to voters.  Despite this however the topic of politics often has an uneasy relationship with many a community manager.

On the one hand it provides an easy source of content as it’s one of those topics that people can readily talk about until the sun comes down.  The flipside of course is that it’s also one of those topics where people seldom change their opinion, so discussions can often succumb to two camps retrenching into their positions and slugging it out.  The discourse can often become a case of quantity over quality, and fallings out are far from uncommon.

And it’s this side of things that causes many community managers to ban the discussion of politics, along with that of religion and your usual illegal stuff.  This post will provide a bit more meat to this discussion, looking at the pros and cons of political discussions.

First the pros.

The pros of allowing political discussionin your community

  1. People are adults – Ok, I’m assuming you’re running a community of adults, so why not treat them as adults?  You’re bringing people together with the belief that together you can do some great things, so you clearly trust them on one level to behave properly, so why rescind that trust when it comes to politics?
  2. Greater depth of understanding – I wrote earlier in the week about the potential for social media to provide deeper relationships between key people.  A bit of off-topic chat is crucial to helping those stronger relationships develop.

The cons of allowing political discussion in your community

  1. Focus, focus, focus – I’ve spoken many times about the importance of a clear purpose for your community.  It needs to tie into key organisational goals in order to allow you to measure its ROI.  The chances are political discussion between members isn’t a key organisation goal, so be careful to keep that in mind.
  2. It can polarise – Research has shown that politics causes people to un-friend people on Facebook more than any other topic.  Whilst encouraging deeper relationships between members is undoubtably good, you need to be careful to judge how important politics is to your members.  If political affiliation is part of ones identity then someone that doesn’t share that affiliation will be seen as an outsider, or even an enemy.  Not ideal for building relationships.

So you can see there are both positives and negatives.  What should you do on your community?

The purpose is the key as that’s what holds your community together and that’s what should guide all of your leadership decisions.

Does the allowing of politics help or harm the achievement of my communities purpose.

The answer to that question will tell you the extent that you allow political discussions in your community.


8 thoughts on “Does politics have a place on your community?

  1. For us I feel pretty strongly that discussing current politics would harm the achievement of the purpose of our community. It's just too explosive of a topic for so many people and way too often the two "pros" you've listed just don't materialize. I don't mean that to attack your post at all – it's great. I just wrote my own post about this last week for our blog… and I think the best way to discuss politics is to discuss it as a topic in and of itself like you've done here. Not diving into the actual issues but to discuss how the topic affects us in general terms. Also taking a historical slant and relating current topics to American history can be a little less provocative especially if you specifically instruct your peeps to keep it friendly in your posts. For example as a photography studio we posted a link to a great article that examined famous images that had an impact on elections through history. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Doug. Your point of view is one that's shared by a great many communities on the web. It's interesting though isn't it given the talk of this being a social media election?

      • Interesting indeed! Not that I've done scientific research on this, but it seems that this was very much a social media election from the standpoint of endless status updates flooding our news feeds as the election got closer. Many people seemed to feel compelled to shout their views from the social rooftops and a lot of it wasn't nice. As for communities it seemed that a lot of local news outlets were posting political questions looking for opinions and the ensuing name calling and vitriol would turn into a total free-for-all…. Maybe more of your average small business brands were the ones who were more careful about it.

        • Yes, politics is seldom anything if not tribal in nature, especially when you're posting under an alias. That is of course one of the nice things about having a corporate social network (ie an internal one) is that it forces people to be a bit more accountable. Too many external communities allow anonymity, and the resulting flamewars are far from pretty.

          As you can see from the comments here however it does generate activity, which for many community managers is too tempting to resist.

  2. I think it truly depends on the type, and purpose, of the community. The community I run is for expats and so we allow political discussions, whilst communities of practice, or branded/product based communities may not allow such discussions. If possible though an off-topic area is a great place for members to get to know one another and many enjoy the nitty gritty of political discussions, and such topics could be contained in off-topic areas. However, ultimately each community needs to look at whether allow certain topics is the right "fit" for them.

  3. I can see why it would be banned, but really if the community only exists to debate what's happening then that isn't really much of a reason for existing. Has to be more than that doesn't it?

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