Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Social media and business 101: Personal is never truly personal

Perhaps, as a Gen Y-er, I can chalk it up to having been technologically spoiled since the age of sixteen. From my earliest memories, technology was always at my disposal, assisting me in areas where I never really needed to develop the skills that countless generations before me relied on (To put it in perspective, I only passed my driving test thanks to a rear-view monitor). Thanks to technology: I know when the roads are closed; how the next 15 miles of traffic will impact my travels; when storms are coming, when a dollar exits my bank account, and the moment my or a client’s name appears online.

Within the last month, though, I’ve encountered more than one situation that reminded me that technology is wonderful but, when it comes to business, is only as good as gut instinct.

I will preface my first example by saying that I (in case I haven’t made it obvious) pride myself on my professionalism. A bold statement, yes, but one that I’ve lived by all my life. I’m notoriously over-dressed, over-prepared, over-packed, and over-resourceful. Most people keep a first aid kit in their glove compartment. I, however, keep an emergency bow-tie, just in case of a formal emergency (yes, they do happen). Having said that, you can probably assume that Halloween wouldn’t be one of my favorite holidays. Just because I don’t personally like appearing in costume, doesn’t mean I’m not entertained by them, in fact—quite the opposite applies. Unfortunately for me, though, the entertainment factor of a tongue-in-cheek costume (and resulting photo of me with the person in said costume) did not make for a well-received addition to my personal Facebook page.

 'So what’s the fuss about? It was your personal page, and its not like it was YOU?'

Personal? More like semi-private. Upon further examination of the post, I realized that people I wasn’t even friends with had seen and liked it, despite my privacy settings. How? Because they subscribe to my public updates. Further, while I--like many in a small business setting--attempt to keep personal and professional separate on Facebook, the lines always blur. In discussing this matter with Carrie, she framed this example perfectly: “Josh: you are NOT a nameless, faceless cog in some big corporate machine; You are a high level employee at a small firm with national presence.” Quite possibly the best argumentative point I’ve ever heard.

Underscoring the lesson of this very personal experience are recent high-profile examples of the damage that can be caused by professionals thinking emails, tweets and status updates are "personal"; or, worse, professionals not thinking about the bigger picture when posting something online. Take, for example, Hurricane Sandy. While this superstorm paralyzed the northeast, taking not only homes and businesses--but also lives... companies like Gap Inc. took it as an opportunity to tweet to encourage online shopping with the 'spare time' the storm afforded its victims.  Needless to say, the backlash was tremendous.

So what if you are a cog in a major corporate machine? Does this make you exempt from following the rules of social media etiquette? Absolutely not. In fact, the stakes are higher. While in a smaller company, a good working rapport with your superior means that he/she will, in most cases, understand that your social media post was made in good humor and work with you to correct it. However, if a tweet or post could even have a whiff of being in poor taste, chances are, it is, and could result in the termination of your employment.

The moral of the story? Know your audience, and never forget that your social audience--regardless of your so-called safeguards--also consists of your coworkers, superiors, and clients. Remember: words are the new 'sticks and stones'; 'everything you say, share, post or photograph can and will be held against you'.

The prosecution rests, your Honor.

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