Maybe because there are so many hot topics in the news today, or maybe I’m just noticing it more, but social media has become the go to place to express personal opinion.
I normally don’t have a problem with that. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas. But I do have a problem when a person, who is a communications professional, forgets that people don’t distinguish between personal pages and work pages. When you are the voice of your company, city, or organization, it is your responsibility to keep those lines very clear.
I’m talking from personal experience. In my job, I represent not only the company I work for, but also everyone who is a customer of ours. And why I most definitely have opinions about political topics, social challenges and more, I try to make it very clear which comments are strictly personal and which are a reflection of my company. It is to easy to alienate or even anger people today not to be.
I’ve presented programs for high school athletes concerning their social profiles and how what they post creates a personal brand. Scholarship boards and coaches check these out to see if the version on the resume matches the student they really are. Character matters. It follows you and it’s hard to shake once you establish it. The same follows true as we enter our professional careers.
Just this week, I was appalled to see how a communication professional was using their personal social media page to engage in a very public disagreement over a city policy. This person represents the town as the voice of their local government. I found it extremely disheartening to see how they included name calling, sarcasm, chose to belittle those who disagreed, and even included profanity (just because it was abbreviated, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there) as they engaged not only with their friends, but other town folks as well. I found it in extreme bad taste.
I’m going to share the following example, because I think it’s a great learning lesson, not only for new communicators, but those of us seasoned professionals as well. If you know the town or the person involved in this exchange, I ask respectfully you do not list names in comments. You’ll see I’ve done my best to mark out anything that would embarrass the town or the person.
Here’s just a glimpse at what I’m talking about:
It is vital you learn how to create a wall around your personal posts and not allow the two sides to become indistinguishable. Most of us interact with our personal friends differently than we would a customer or client. The simplest way to avoid this problem is to not use your social channels for business at all. If you have a problem keeping your opinions to yourself and can’t get a grip on your filter, this may be your best solution. However, there are times you need to leverage your social connections. Instead, use the settings to your advantage. In most cases, you can limit who can see your posts to only your friends. Just don’t forget, Twitter does not have this feature. It would be a great practice for you to investigate the privacy and audience settings and put them into place.
Some options include:
Public – anyone in the world can see your post/picture. This includes people who don’t have Facebook.
Friends of Friends – limited to your friends and their friends.
Friends (plus people who are tagged) – allows only your personal connections to see your posts.
Only me – useless – why would you post something to your feed for only you to see??
Custom – you can to manually choose who can see your posts, and who will not. Facebook allows you to create “lists” of connections. If you must share controversial opinions, this is the option for you. Create a “friend” list and a “business” list. When you post something professional, you can share with business list. When you can’t control your feelings, choose your friend list and share.
There are also channels you should never use for anything other than business related posts. LinkedIn is one of those. In case you don’t know, LinkedIn is not business Facebook. No one goes there to get endless status updates on your day. It’s a place for networking and industry news. Keep your drama off these pages.
All in all, we live in a complicated world full of even more complicated people. With the advent of social media, and its evolution into a marketing channel, confrontations regarding political opinions have increased ten fold. This phenomenon presents marketers with a unique dilemma regarding how to use their social channels that are often both personal and business focused.
If this issue is something you have overcome, I would love to get your input on how you did it and what strategies others can use to their own benefit.
Let’s face it: social media is risky. A single post could throw your career off track. Finding the perfect balance between work and your personal life is an ongoing discussion. Even tougher for your professionals starting out since they have never known life without social media.
Here are a few more tips you can use as a guidelines to maintain your professional credibility online.
• Talk about confidential information.
• Use profanity. Even abbreviated versions like the one demonstrated in the post above. You might think you’re being clever, but it still exudes the fact you aren’t professional. If you wouldn’t use it in a business meeting, don’t use it in your post. language.
• Live tweet your night out on the town. Keep it classy, not trashy. You don’t have to put everything on social media. It happened even if you don’t post the pictures. You need to be real, but the key here is moderation.
• Do drama, especially if you are frustrated at work. If you are the face of your company, it’s never ok to bad mouth them, your customers, or your co-workers even on your personal feed.
• Post anything with grammatical errors. Read it through before you hit send.
• Letting your personality shine through your social feeds. It’s important to be authentic. It makes you seem like a real person. People feel like they know you.
• Incorporate your personal and professional interests. Share professional articles and tips. Highlight things you learn at a conference. Showcase events you attend.
• Connect with and follow professionals, friends and influencers. Be smart about who you bring into your social circle. Remember, just as you’re looking for them, they are looking for you. Be a community builder, not one who tear people apart.
I urge you to take a step back and look at what you are sharing and how that not only impacts the worlds view of you, but that of the company you represent.
It is possible to maintain both a personal and professional presence online. Be smart. Have fun. Stay respectful. The bottom line is be positive and remember what your mother taught you: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.