Social media and the web offer us so much in terms of access to information, people, ideas, resources, and news. It also gives us the opportunity to connect with old friends, and new, and to instantly share a concept, concern, complaint, compliment, opinion, or even joke and post it to thousands (if not millions) of people with the ease of a single keystroke.
Sometimes, however, in the rush to share breaking news or a funny thought, many people are doing more harm to their personal and company brands and reputations. I see many of these instances, and the results can be devastating!
Posting, updating, commenting, and contributing to the online conversation offer wonderful opportunities to build and enhance your positioning as an expert, contributor, and participant in the global online discussion. My advice is always to work from a place of authenticity, reputation, strategy, and clear understanding of the target audience you seek to attract and engage with.
Remember that everything you type into a computer, smart phone, tablet, or other electronic device (as a post, text, email, comment, instant message, SnapChat, private message, and so on) is assumed public. Yes, public. The possibility always exists that your employer, spouse, mother, and local journalist can see it - via a "share" of some kind.
As you navigate the online conversation, here is a short list of things NOT to post online.
- Someone else's good news that might not be public yet (i.e. your colleague is pregnant, your sister is being considered for a new job... at a competing firm). This can cause serious impact to the person being discussed.
- Unconfirmed news or suspicion (that a missing airplane has been found, a famous actor is dead). Imagine the trauma you can cause if the information is not verified.
- Your deepest desires and passions (dreaming of someone else's spouse? craving a job in entertainment... using a pole as a prop?). Some conversations are really best shared over a glass of wine, not the web.
- Off color jokes. What you find funny might be offensive or highly sensitive for your online contacts. Remember the recent incident of the PR executive who posted a "joke" before taking off on a flight to Africa about her inability to contract AIDS because of her ethnicity? She was fired before her plane landed.
- Private, family information (father has cancer, family member is struggling financially). You can seriously compromise someone's privacy by sharing information they may not be ready to have the world know.
- Half-statements designed to solicit sympathy and providing no context to your audiences ("oh, poor me..." or "wish it would get better...."). Truth be told, more online friends say they wish you'd just state what's on your mind, instead of making people pry it out of you.
- Things that could impact your career ("I hate this job" or "One day I'll work for an employer who appreciates me"). Your employer has a high likelihood of seeing this. Nothing online is private, remember?
- Sharing links you haven't vetted. Always click through on the link/video/article before you share it to be sure the URL is accurate. Many times people have thought they were sharing news stories or cute animal videos when in fact it was something VERY different...
- Something you wouldn't say to someone in person. There is NO anonymity to the web. You should always assume the person you're speaking about will find out what was said... and who said it. The world is too small for them not to.
- Things that misrepresent who you are. This also includes only posting the successes and the accomplishments you achieve. Real people have ups and downs. On sites as social as Facebook, for instance, your friends want to hear the good and bad. When you can share your lessons learned or perspective on your shortcomings, you show that you are a real, relatable person. In all social media, authenticity is key.
- Comments inappropriate for the media (i.e. your favorite recipes posted to LinkedIn and job status updates to Facebook). Always consider the design and purpose of each social platform and the audiences you strive to influence on that platform. LinkedIn is more professional and business-focused. Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, and Pinterest have a more social quality. Google+ and YouTube tend to hybrid professional/social but still do so in a very professional way. And Twitter is the catch-all for content that is streaming at the speed of light. Still, even on Twitter, your ability to make a mistake most often results from forgetting your use of the platform, the followers you've attracted, and what they expect from you.
Post updates and information that show audiences who you are, what you believe in, and what you do to build credibility in the communities you care about. When you understand how you'd like your personal brand to show up and how you want to be perceived, you can create a strategy to help you avoid making mistakes and build credibility for your values and value.
Representing yourself authentically is the best path to building genuine and sustainable relationships - online and in person.