Monday, February 11, 2013

Don't Say Everything

The great thing about social media is that you can say whatever you’re thinking and broadcast that message to the masses. Unfortunately, the bad thing about social media is that you can say whatever you’re thinking and broadcast that message to the masses.

Remember that party you went to where that thing happened that was SO funny? How about when somebody said something you didn’t like but you thought of a witty retort that would put that person in his or her place?

Yeah. Don’t post those.

Eventually, we’ll have to start remembering that “once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever.”

As THE ONION pointed out last fall, “A troubling report finds that by 2040 every presidential candidate will be unelectable to political office due to their embarrassing Facebook posts.”

Sure. THE ONION isn’t exactly the definitive source for news, but the parody site brings home a good point. People will pay attention to what you post – whether it’s a tweet, a status update, a comment, a video, or a picture.

It’s one thing to chalk bad up judgment to immaturity or youthful indiscretion, but more and more we’re seeing these lapses in common sense posted publicly by adults.

There’s always going to be the argument that what a person does in his or her personal time shouldn’t reflect on his or her professional life, but living under that assumption isn’t living in the real world.

That assumption was the norm before everything you thought, did, or said was posted by you or someone else for everyone to see. Believing that your personal life shouldn’t and won’t impact your professional life is unrealistic.

Why? Social media provides anyone and everyone with the tools to create what is essentially a media outlet no different from a newspaper, magazine, or a radio/television station, and what you post or allow to be posted is broadcast to audiences everywhere.

No matter what your job title may be, at some level you represent your employer. If you’re a grocery clerk at Bi-Lo and post about how you disagree with the company’s move out of South Carolina to Jacksonville, that could easily be picked up by a reporter writing a story on the corporate shakeup. If you’re a political staff member and engage in a Twitter battle with a staffer from an opposing side, the perception becomes that you’re speaking on behalf of the politico you serve. If you’re a consultant who spreads rumors about a competitor, your client can become the issue as media members ask, “And why do you associate with Consultant X when he/she continues making these inflammatory statements?”

You are a public face for your employer. Your actions and words impact them as much, if not sometimes more, than they impact you.

And if you’re in job hunt mode and those types of social media posts surface during the vetting process, go ahead and kiss that potential job goodbye.

Use your head, and run your thoughts through a filter before you hit “Post.”

Ask yourself a few questions.
  • “Will I regret this later?”
  • “How will my employer/client/potential employer/client feel about this post/picture/comment/video?”
  • “How will this reflect on me to friends and family?”
  • “Is this really wise for me to post?”
Even if you think through your posts, you’re going to make mistakes from time to time. Humor is not universal (I’ve learned this.), sarcasm doesn’t always translate well to electronic writing (I’ve learned this.), and most people who follow you on Twitter or are your “friends” on Facebook, don’t truly know you or your personality and can easily take your comments outside of the spirit in which they were intended or how they sounded in your head as you wrote them. Be prepared to handle those situations when they arise.

Social media is not an evil tool. Just like anything else, it’s all about the way it’s used. You can be funny. You can be snarky (I am a lot.). You can be informative. You can be engaging. You can be positive. You can be a promotional outlet who uses social media to get ahead.

Just remember, though, once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. There’s no pulling it back, so make sure you’ve thought your social media activity through to its end, how it can be used against you, and how you can use it for you.

Taft Matney is a partner with TM Public Relations, a strategic communications and governmental affairs firm in Greenville, SC. Follow him on Twitter ( and "like" TMPR on Facebook (
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