It’s rare for a day to pass by for the media not to detail someone’s near ‘fatal’ faux pas in social media. In fact, I repeatedly dealt with stories of social media ‘horror’ on this very blog:
- Professional social media intervention? – 10 April 2011;
- Another social media ‘horror’ story … – 12 November 2010;
- Social media topic de jour – 14 May 2010;
- Boundaries in social networking: private or professional – 10 May 2010;
- Navigating the social networks (and social media horror stories for lawyers) – 3 March 2010;
- The dark side of social networking – 5 December 2009; and
- Think before you click ‘post’ – 4 June 2009.
Agreed, a serious social media mistake can have significant consequences. However, such serious indiscretions don’t happen as often as the media would have you believe it and, in most cases, there is room for rehabilitation. Although the reality is that, with the 24-hour news cycle, things are likely to get blown out of proportion very quickly.
While you may not be able to control the news media, unless you are perhaps Rupert Murdoch (although recent events have illustrated that even he does not have that power), you can take charge of your own consequent behavior and response.
If you have the funds, a reputable and proven public relations expert can do wonders for you. If you can’t afford that extravagance, good old-fashioned humble pie is likely to be the best and most sensible way to go. Avoid being arrogant and conceited, admit you have made a mistake, apologise (make sure you do so sincerely) and, most importantly, learn from your mistake and never do it again. Unfortunately, if you become a repeat offender there may be no saving grace for you.
Despite the potential pitfalls you should never think you can’t be yourself in your social media presence out of fear what recruiters, and your current or future employer may think of you. After all, we are entitled to a rich and satisfying personal life, and our professional life should not prevent us from pursuing our passions, and living our life to the fullest.
I am a firm believer that it is very important that you do not create an ‘alternative’ social media personality for the benefit of others:
- Are you a proud conservative?
- Are you a progressive liberal?
- Are you gay?
- Are you not just gay, but also a gay rights activist?
- Are you a human rights activist?
- Are you a women’s rights activist?
- Are you a climate change activist, and support a carbon tax?
My advice to you is to be true to yourself, be proud and honest about the matters that are important to you and don’t ‘manufacture’ what you may consider to be an ‘acceptable’ image for yourself on social media.
Doing so will eventually catch up with you!
Having said that, I would suggest you manage your social media presence by having two distinct streams: one professional and one personal. You shouldn’t need to hide your personal presence, but it may be inappropriate to completely merge it with your professional life in a single social stream. There may even be some overlap between the two, but I would recommend you place a relatively well-defined boundary between your professional and personal lives on social media. Whether you do this by maintaining separate professional and private accounts on various social media, or by sophisticated privacy settings on a single account, is your choice.
While being honest, and authentic, you should always be mindful of social norms and rules of civility. Any opinion you offer should be factual, and reasoned.
With social progress, behaviours such as homophobia, misogyny, and racism had become largely unacceptable, and are considered ‘views’ that damage society. If you hold such views, rather than publicly expressing them on social media, perhaps your time would be better spent on quiet self-examination, and reflection …
However, consider this:
- Would you really wish to be employed on the basis of a manufactured social media personality?
- Would you wish to hide your real personality throughout your professional life?
- Are you willing to take the risk of not being a true cultural fit in your professional environment?
There is a right professional environment and cultural fit out there for everyone. Your personal life and professional performance and career will be nourished and advanced by working in a comfortable, friendly environment with colleagues who accept you for who you are.
However, if you misrepresent yourself online through a carefully crafted social media personality designed to create the person you think recruiters and employers are looking for, you may send the wrong message and consequently take a huge risk ending up in an environment that may be unsatisfying professionally, and potentially soul-destroying on a personal level.
If you have been unfortunate enough to have experienced being trapped in a professional environment where you were not a good cultural fit, this will all make good sense to you. If you haven’t yet had that experience, I recommend you do all you can to avoid it.