In college, and for a couple of years after (including the first 6 months I worked as a licensed agent,) I was a bartender.  It was a pretty cush job – working ~25 hours/week and meeting interesting people who had to be nice to you in order to get a drink.  During happy hour, you’d see the regulars, and strangers would wander in.  Conversations were had.  And I had one rule:  No politics or religion. Seriously.

There is no faster way to alienate someone you don’t know well than to bring up politics or religion.  There are typically two sides to any political issue, and by taking a side, there’s usually a 50% chance that you will disagree with the person you’re speaking with, or people listening in.  The more issues you discuss, the greater the chance that you’ll disagree with your listeners on some issue.  While that doesn’t matter much to an engineer, to a salesperson, it’s quite poignant.  If you publicly debate politics or religion, you’re probably alienating potential or current clients.

Over the past year or so, a few minor events have made significant impact on how I manage my web presence:

About a year ago, my business partner & I hired a development team to begin work on our RETS mapping system.  After the initial meeting with the main contact, I googled him and found his twitter page.  Scanning through his tweets, this guy was very politically & religiously opinionated, and I disagreed with him a lot. A few months later, we were approached by another development team, and we moved our project to them for a number of reasons.  While only a subconscious part of the decision, I would be lying if I said that his twitter account didn’t influence me at all.  I now protect my tweets from public viewing. Check it out.

About six months ago, I was working with a couple buying a home in Austin.  We’re roughly the same age, and we really hit it off.  After our second or third appointment, one of them mentioned a blog post I’d written on “my personal blog” that he thought was particularly entertaining.  While it entertained this client, I looked at the post and realized that it could have just as easily offended another, and I very well could have lost clients over it.  I audited the blog and buried everything potentially offensive (by changing the dates to 2007.)  There’s no such thing as a “personal blog,” as you have no control over who reads your blog posts, or comments.

Very recently, a local colleague forwarded ~100 of her closest friends & me a politically charged email that I highly disagreed with.  As I see email as a bit more personal than other forms of social media, I’ve always restricted anything potentially offensive to family & friends (who I don’t care if I offend.)  However, I don’t want to continue receiving email like this from someone I’ve done business with, and will do business with again, as I want to perform my job at the highest level.  I emailed her and ask that she refrain from sending me any political messages again. I’ll reply in this manner to any colleague that emails me political or religious messages, no matter if I agree or disagree with them.

The internet, and recent social media innovations in particular, have helped us get to know each other a lot better.  There are many people that I consider friends who I’ve never met, or spoken with on the phone.  If one of my friends would like to discuss politics or religion via IM, email, over the phone, or over beers, I’m game.  Friendship should be stronger than political or religious differences.  Professional relationships, however, rarely are.

As agents who use our web presence to find new clients, and ultimately pay our mortgages, we should be hyper-conscious of our online personae.  The next time you get the urge to write that post or comment about how great or horrible the latest political move by your favorite or most hated politician is, think about all of the potential clients who probably disagree.  Half of them do.