How a Facebook post put a train store on the wrong track

This morning, a local model train store took some flak for a Facebook post about a news story that portrayed some railroad workers in a bad light. A well-known railroad employee and rail enthusiast, who felt the store should not comment on the issue, threatened on his own Facebook page to take his business elsewhere. A few hours later, the store apologized and deleted the post.

We live in an environment where the political is personal and vice versa. The political discourse has turned nasty. Many people are thin-skinned about comments or posts that disagree with their views or are critical of positions or politicians they support.

wrong track

Businesses large and small need to exercise caution and sensitivity in their communications and actions lest they alienate part of their customer base. Last week, conservatives took Nike to task for pulling a product with the Betsy Ross flag after Nike endorser Colin Kaepernick, a controversial figure in his own right, complained that white supremacist groups had adopted the flag for their cause.

On the other side, many consumers won’t shop at Hobby Lobby or eat at Chik Fil A because of the owners’ well-known views on women’s reproductive health and same-sex marriage, respectively. Even though the individual involved no longer runs the company, some people plan to boycott of Home Depot because one of its founders wants to donate a large part of his fortune to Donald Trump.

The message is clear and simple: Keep politics out of business. That can be difficult in jurisdictions where membership in a particular political party is needed to get business. However, there are two sides to every argument and the side that disagrees with you could start to shop elsewhere.

As for the train store owner, I don’t think he was trying to pick a fight with anyone. He thought train enthusiasts would find the story interesting and he encouraged people to engage with it. That they did…in spades.

If you feel the need to speak out on an issue, pick one that is relevant to your business and matters to your customers, e.g. highway safety for a car dealer or access and diversity for a college. And, make sure your digital communications strategy has a policy for how to incorporate the issue into your marketing without alienating any customers.

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