This post was originally published on Forbes.com as a follow up to something I had earlier shared on DeseretNews.com. Social media damage control is sometimes a big part of managing your online reputation regardless of whether you are an individual or a business.
My mother always warned me to be careful about what I said and did in public because I never knew who was watching. She was right.
I have to admit that more than once as a teenager I pulled into the driveway to my father asking me about how fast I was driving on my way home. Although I didn’t live in a small town, it was small enough that his friends recognized my car and called him if they thought I was driving a little too fast.
There were no secrets in the community where I grew up.
Although the town I live in now is much bigger than it once was, the Internet and social media have made it a much smaller place. What’s more, as individuals and businesses, the need to manage and protect your reputation is just as important today — and likely takes a little more attention than it once did.
For example, some colleagues and I were discussing this yesterday when one of them mentioned a friend of his who had driven down to Las Vegas to meet a boy she’d been flirting with online and over the phone for several weeks. Apparently, after meeting in person, he said he needed to grab his wallet out of the car and would be right back — he never returned. He cowardly slipped away into the night, never to be seen again.
It wasn’t that unusual of a story. Without making excuses for obviously rude behavior, I’m sure it sometimes happens when people meet and for whatever reasons don’t have any chemistry. What makes this situation different is the reaction of her friends and a very hostile blog one of them wrote regarding his less than chivalrous behavior, calling him out by name.
I Googled his name to see if the blog post had come up in search yet, but didn’t see anything. However, if the friends of this mistreated young woman have anything to say about it, they’ll likely beat this drum until it does.
A couple years ago I had a colleague comment that he was glad social media wasn’t around when he was in college or he’d have had a lot of explaining to do in job interviews. It was the result of one of his younger friends complaining about having missed out on a potential job because photos of him at a party with a number of drunken fraternity brothers was posted and made public on his Facebook.
A few months back I commented on how I felt about employers who require job applicants to make their Facebook profile public to them, however anyone’s public profile should be considered up for grabs. Unfortunately for the Mr. Wrong described above, his less-than-gentlemanly behavior will become part of the public record, searchable by potential employers or a future spouse and will definitely call his integrity into question.
Let me suggest four tips that will help you effectively manage your online reputation:
1. Don’t forget your brand is every touch point
If you’re like me, your Facebook and Google+, and other social media accounts include close friends, family members and a number of your professional associates. I try not to say or do anything on social media that would poorly reflect on my personal brand. What’s more, I don’t think you could keep them separate (and private) even if you tried. Therefore, I don’t mind sharing my personal interests with my friends, but I am careful that anything I promote online doesn’t reflect negatively on my professional image.
I have a number of well-meaning friends who regularly rant about politics or other things on social media, causing me, and others, to tune them out. I have to admit, their regular tirades have hurt their brand — whether or not they post compromising photos of themselves from the convention party they were at last month. I have always thought that if I was mindful not to post anything that would offend the company I worked for or my mom, I wouldn’t get in too much trouble. So before you post ask yourself, “Would this offend Ty’s mom?”
2. If you argue online you lose
Arguing online is like shouting at your neighbor standing in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Everyone can hear you and you look like an idiot. My wife is not a big fan of social media because she doesn’t like to draw undue attention to herself. If you’re online there’s nothing you can do about that, and if your business has a social media presence, you will occasionally have to address a complaint. (Nobody’s perfect, right?) Fortunately, because the complaint is public, you can deal with it publicly.
Last week a local restaurant carried on a public rant on its Facebook page with an unhappy customer causing some negative PR backlash. Its desire to put an unreasonable customer in their place was a great example of screaming in the cul-de-sac. The restaurant would have been better served to have publicly apologized for whatever the customer was upset about, put forth an olive branch, and reaped the rewards of being recognized as a company that really cares about its customers.
Fighting on social media never goes away. It shows up in search long after the incident has otherwise been forgotten. I once watched a Nordstrom employee deal with a dishonest customer by accepting a return that had, despite the claims of the customer, been washed and mistreated for years. I left the store that day knowing that any complaint I may have would be dealt with fairly and according to Nordstrom's stated customer service policy. The cost of a shirt did more for the dozen or so of us who witnessed this than the next several years of advertising ever could.
3. Be polite and remember the golden rule
I have long thought that the immediacy of the medium shouldn’t dictate how we interact or how we approach the conversation. I once worked with a man who was always curt in his text messages and came across course and rude. I’m sure he didn’t intend to be that way, but he definitely wasn’t trying to be courteous. This hurt his personal brand. Regardless of the topic of conversation or how passionate you feel about it, if you are consistently polite and considerate online, you won’t go far afield. I regularly hear from people who disagree with my opinions, but I seldom lash out and try very diligently to be polite even if they are not (review tip No. 1).
4. Remember that what happens online stays online
This isn’t the same as what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas either. I’m often amazed at what comes up in search — articles or comments I’ve made years ago still seem to show up from time to time, some of which I wish wouldn’t. Nevertheless, unlike your wife or your best friend, the Internet never forgets. It pays to remember that every comment, every status update, every response is captured and stored on a server someplace so Google can link to it — and they do.
An effective social media presence involves a lot more than whether you have a Facebook or a Twitter account. Like any type of public interaction, it demands a thoughtful and strategic approach to make it work for you and your organization. What’s more, before you jump in with both feet you should take the time to look strategically at what you’re doing and why. My grandmother used to say, “Well begun is half done.” Where social media is concerned, I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
As a Main Street business evangelist and marketing veteran with more than 25 years in the trenches, Ty Kiisel writes about leading people and small-business issues for Lendio (www.lendio.com).