retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s a cute new cartoon I’ve seen on line. It depicts a stern-looking woman who has just buried a hatchet in her computer monitor. The caption reads, “Election season has been a great opportunity to whittle down my Facebook friends.”

Even the most casual user of Facebook is likely seeing the same for the past couple of weeks: the usual banality of Facebook postings at times turns ugly. It starts with a posting extolling or disparaging President Obama or Gov. Romney (or other Democrats and Republicans) and devolves into what can best be described as a shouting match.

I’ve seen friends post remorseful statements that they will never mention politics again; that political discussions have caused them to “un-friend” someone; or requests that others refrain from posting anything about politics on their wall. And frequently, I see many of those cartoons from SomeEcards (like the one mentioned earlier) such as the drawing of a sad woman coming to grips with troubling political statements from Facebook friends.

In truth, it had to happen. This is the first election in the age of everyone sharing everything. For decades we’ve all had friends who wore buttons, displayed bumper stickers and posted lawn signs for candidates we either liked or disliked. Somehow we always got by.

So why is it different in the world of social media?

Maybe it’s due to the intensely negative nature of the current campaign. Maybe it’s the thinking that “my wall is my wall and I don’t want your opinions on it.” Or maybe it represents something new. I’m thinking it’s the latter.

The interconnected world of social media allows us to know an incredible amount about people we loosely call “friends” and we don’t always agree. I have friends who are openly fans of the Yankees and Red Sox; the Packers and Bears; and even Star Wars and Star Trek. In this new world, we know it all.

For businesses, this may not be a laughing matter, especially if your value equation isn’t strong enough to outweigh other passions. With information so readily available, today’s shoppers can easily determine if a company donates to or supports one candidate or another. Consider the show of support for Chick-Fil-A this summer following the owner’s comments on same sex marriage. Consider just how much or little Costco suffers for the very high-profile speech by founder Jim Sinegal at the recent Democratic National Convention. I’m betting that long term both companies do fine because of Chick-Fil-A’s sandwiches and Costco’s high quality products. But for companies with weaker points of distinction the impact could have been enormous.

So in today’s work, it pays to keep in mind that the information is all out there. Everyone’s entitled to opinions - including on politics - but there’s a time and place for everything. I’m hoping that we will learn quickly that absolutely no one agrees with us 100% of the time and that a diverse circle of friends is a good way to go. But I’m not sure that happens between now and November.

My son astutely pointed out the problem of Too Much Information when he entered college four years ago. Thanks to Facebook he could suddenly find out everything possible about a girl he might be interested in dating. And frequently, he would find those areas of difference, which in my son’s case eliminates all Yankee fans. Sometimes a little ignorance can be bliss.

Luckily for him, his girlfriend decided to adopt the Mets. Your business should only be that lucky.

Remember, everyone is watching.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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