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Is it ever OK to cross the line into social commentary?

Thought leaders tend to be a pretty opinionated bunch. They have experience that gives them tenacity and a tolerance for risk. That experience also drives their passion. Sometimes to the boiling point. But is it ever OK for a thought leader to let that spill over beyond business into the realm of social or political commentary?

Current events can easily fuel the flames of a personal passion. You end up feeling so strongly about a situation that you simply cannot keep quiet. Events of the last several months are no exception. Global politics and related events are stirring emotions and outcry from all sides.

Trying to keep the lid on the pot is no longer an option. So is it possible to toe that line without jeopardizing your hard earned thought leader status and reputation? The short answer: sort of.

If you are thinking about jumping into the fray, look at this brief list of considerations before you leap.

Focus on the facts: do your research and use a fact-based approach. Facts will build credibility and keep you on track with your line of reasoning. A wild rolling rant might feel great in the moment, but it has the potential to damage both your credibility and company brand.

Select your platform: some social media platforms are more welcoming to opinion-based articles. You will find strong opinion statements on Facebook and Twitter. Posting that style of article on LinkedIn will get attention, but not necessarily the kind you want.

Balance your perspective: use a measure of balance in your article that demonstrates your understanding of the issue from multiple viewpoints.

Consider the repercussions: in our fast-forward world where everything is public, it’s important to thoroughly consider all the potential consequences. Think about recent headlines concerning statements made by the CEO of Chick-Fil-A. Customers boycotting brands that don’t align with their beliefs is our new business reality. And it's not just the big brands that are feeling this impact.

Let it sit a while: give yourself a day or two of distance from your article after it's written. It's amazing how different it will look when you come back to edit after some time away. You will be glad you waited.

Be genuine: share your ideas and opinions in a direct, honest way. Be yourself and don’t shy away from showing a bit vulnerability. No one person has all the answers.

Better to out-maneuver than out-shout: there’s plenty of noise out there already. Don’t simply add to it with a rant. Nothing wrong with being provocative, just aim to provoke a conversation, not a fist fight.

Add value: always.

Is it OK to cross the line into social or political commentary? Sir Richard Branson shares his opinions regularly. But his brands are large enough to tolerate the impact of potential backlash. You may not enjoy the benefits of a similar situation.

Crossing that line is a personal choice that thought leaders need to consider carefully. Think before you leap.

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