Just when the NFL is trying to put the protest movement and political debate sparked by Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem to bring to light the issue of police brutality and racism against the African American community, another popular U.S. sport is now making headlines but this time for an internationally charged political comment. Yes, we're talking about Lebron James, the NBA and the relationship with China. To be fair, Lebron didn't start the fire, but his and the NBA's response to a tweet from the Houston Rockets General Manager who voiced support for the still volatile Hong Kong protest movement landed them right in the middle of an internationally charged situation that is already costing the NBA big dollars. The storm also does not seem to be subsiding anytime soon with basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal weighing in on the side of the General Manager's right to free speech.
Let's just say this conversation about business profits vs. political statements seems to be a growing issue whichever side you're on. As businesses, and yes the NFL and NBA most definitely are businesses, and profits become more dependent on global revenues so too does the bottom line and if the bottom line can be impacted, then businesses need to know how to handle these kinds of issues when they operate in politically charged regions. And let's face it, these days it's hard to be in a region that isn't politically charged.
First rule is, tweet....NEVER. Okay, maybe that's overstating it a bit so how about this: Don't tweet a politically charged comment when your comment can be directly affiliated with the organization you have a leadership role in. Basically, think before you tweet when you are in a high-profile position or position of power.
But let's face it, sometimes that twitter finger has a mind of its own and emotions can run high with certain issues which brings us to the second rule to follow which is: All businesses - big and small - need to have a crisis communication plan in place. Even if we're not talking about a crisis on the scale of a crippling natural disaster, one wrong tweet could potentially lead to some pretty disastrous consequences so when in doubt, reach out to your organization’s communications and public relations team before taking any further action. This is their area of expertise so be smart and let the experts guide your response which can either exacerbate or alleviate an already volatile situation.
Lastly: Know your audience and the political environment. In this day and age, no business can lose out on the vast China market and come out unscathed. So when you enter a market like China, you need to also understand the political nuances that exist in that country and tread carefully.
All this may be a lot to take in when you're just looking to voice an opinion, but words matter, and words gone viral can matter even more. At the end of the day, business leaders may decide to throw their support behind one cause or another and they may even choose to officially endorse one cause or another…i.e. Nike’s Emmy-nominated Colin Kaepernick ad. That’s okay too, but that will have to be a top down corporate wide decision which again, will still have consequences – good or bad. That's the time we live in now - for better or worse - so think before you tweet and then perhaps, think again.