Social media can be a great way to update your circle of friends on the latest family news, accomplishments, or general goings-on in your life. It’s a great way to reach out in a mass cluster, informing those you might not otherwise pick up the phone to call about every life event.
However, as much as social media has its advantages and conveniences, it also has its downside. When you start posting your opinions and viewpoints, the anonymity of your behind-the-screen typing can cause you to be more loose-lipped than you would when talking to a friend in person. You might inadvertently wind up saying too much, saying the wrong thing, or saying something you’ll later regret.
Imagine this scenario: one morning, while sipping a latte at a local cafe, you pick up a coffee-table magazine and come across an ad with a slogan that captures your perspective on animal rights. It reads: Pet stores don’t find homes, they find customers. You aren’t a fan of pet stores that sell animals, so you post the message on Facebook, sharing with everyone on your Friends list. Naturally, you think everyone will appreciate the comment as much as you do.
Unfortunately, with a few hundred Friends on your FB list, it slips your mind that one of your good friends and supporters, who happens to own several pet stores, is among your followers. Your friend is not in the pet business to exploit animals for money. She’s an avid animal lover, and does her best to protect the welfare of pets. Your comment has insulted, offended, and hurt her in a very personal way. Even if she doesn’t “de-friend” you on Facebook, you’ve lost her support and you’ve wounded the relationship, perhaps beyond repair. And you, the poster, may not have meant any harm, but harm was certainly done.
If you’d been at the coffeehouse with several friends, including the pet-shop proprietor, you surely would have been conscientious enough not to make any remarks similar to what you posted. Although your opinion about selling animals at pet stores remained the same, you wouldn’t have disrespected your friend’s career choice.
It’s all too commonplace to over-share or under-filter your comments on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. You often make posts on the fly or even on a whim. But don’t forget, those offhanded remarks that you may instantly forget about, are out there being read and evaluated, and could even be damaging friendships, tarnishing your reputation, or destroying your career.
When you tweet or post, be careful of every word shared, and be mindful of the message you are actually sending. Here are five things to keep in mind:
- Pass on the Politics Think twice before you make statements of a political nature in a social media forum. Even if you’re certain most of your followers are of a like-mind when it comes to politics, you’re almost certainly wrong. While you may consider yourself to be open-minded and lighthearted when it comes to government issues, you may have friends that are more convicted and invested in particular candidates or hot-button topics. Remember the old saying that “politics make strange bedfellows,” and reserve discussions of your political persuasions to those you can, and would, personally confide in.
- Comment with Caution Although it may take some of the fun out of the process of social media sharing, consider every comment you make carefully before you release it into cyberspace. Think of what you’re saying from every angle, ensuring that you’re not putting yourself in a potentially awkward situation. Think of the example where the poster offended her friend because she posted what she thought to be a cute and widely-held belief about pet stores. Sometimes, our jokes or our “harmless” posts do more harm than good.
- Socialize Selectively Don’t accept every friend request or invite everyone you know to be social media buddies. There’s no point in trying to rack up the number of friends or followers you have as if it’s a popularity contest of sorts. Limit your social-media circle to those you want to share with. Keep your circle selective and close. Think twice about opening that circle to recent acquaintances, potential love interests, or friends of friends that you don’t really know all that well. Do you really want someone you just started dating to have access to your private pictures, thoughts, and friendships?
- Don’t Mix Business with Pleasure Keep your social media worlds separate. Facebook and Twitter are great places to share with your friends, but perhaps your boss wouldn’t appreciate the pictures of you from last weekend’s party. Open a Linkedin account for business posts and career commenting. But don’t be tempted to “friend” your colleagues, even if you consider them friends in some respects. You never know how things from your personal, private life might be construed or held against you in the workplace. It’s wise to compartmentalize and separate the business and personal sides of your life. And it may just help you keep your job!
- Reign in Your Ego Although friends and followers sometimes comment or tweet in reference to your posts, social media is often a one-way street. You write your thoughts, ideas, and updates, hit send, and that’s that. You can, and perhaps do, say whatever you want. You’re the master of your own domain. Social media is your own personal soapbox, and you’re free to get up on it whenever you want. And you don’t even have to witness the reactions from the crowd. You’re safely tucked away behind your computer, tablet, or smart phone. But you need to realize that not everyone appreciates everything your say. You are not the end all, be all of opinions. Of course, we all like to think of ourselves as having the right and most logical perspectives. But then again, so does everyone else. Be careful not to espouse your ideals as if they apply to everyone out there.
Social media is like the proverbial double-edged sword. It can be a fun, beneficial, and convenient way to communicate with friends and family. But, you need to be careful with a sword in your hand. You need to handle it in such a way that no one gets hurt. Watch where you swing the blade of your words, and don’t point sharp comments into the face of a mixed crowd. And remember, it’s been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. Your words are powerful, poignant, and have effect on those who absorb them. When using social media, be mindful of that power, and protect yourself by respecting the meaning behind every message you relay.
Sheri Staak has served in many Vice Presidential roles at both large privately held and publicly traded global companies. She’s a corporate powerhouse and has been the recipient of numerous sales awards and recognitions. In addition to her key position in a highly aggressive, extremely competitive industry, Sheri is a regular contributor to a travel newsletter, lending her expertise by writing articles that provide tips and advice for business travelers. She also shares her wisdom and business perspectives with regular postings at her leadership-focused blog, The Staak Report.