As politicians begin campaigning for the 2016 election, many large businesses have begun to show their support for the various social, economic, or political agendas of different parties. Using social media, companies have expressed their thoughts on prevalent issues through succinct hashtags. Being an active voice on social issues can benefit your company, but it can also cause you to lose valuable clients. Are political hashtags worth the risk?

ThinkstockPhotos-507059973Politically charged hashtags can definitely affect your business. For instance, many brands supported the #lovewins campaign and changed their logos to represent the LGBTQQIP2SAA community. In the process though, brands like Starbucks and Apple lost many conservative customers due to their support of the movement. But both big companies decided to take the risk and the loss of those groups of consumers. Undoubtedly, they will be impacted, but by how much remains to be seen.

The risks are much higher for small companies. If you support a dividing social issue on social media, you may alienate half of your customer base. Also, you could shame your company by incorrectly using a hashtag or supporting an issue that your whole audience rejects. Smaller companies cannot afford to polarize their customers. In the interest of prudence, only use political hashtags if you know your audience will accept them.

Social media is about connecting to a large audience; political messages often divide and perplex the masses—thereby preventing that large-scale connection. As with all hashtags, you should research what they stand for before using them, especially on your company’s website. But political hashtags are a different beast: use them with extreme caution, and when in doubt, do not use. Better safe than sorry, as many brands have discovered the hard way.

For more information, see Social Media Today.