I am very excited about two different speaking engagements I have coming up: one in Miami to a group of bank compliance officers sponsored by World Compliance, Inc. on Wednesday, February 18 and another at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA on March 2. During both talks, I will try and shed some light on what all this social media stuff means but, clearly, they are geared to two very different audiences. One is a group of compliance officers from banks all over the world and the other is group of high school students at a Boston-area prep school who are getting ready to head to college and into the real world. (Full disclosure- I graduated from St. Mark’s in the 80s.)
It got me thinking, though, that in some ways the message will be exactly the same: online behavior. While many people attempt to segregate their online personas from their offline ones, it’s a losing battle. Life is life and everything is interconnected. This is even more true on the web, isn’t it? You are in control of how your appear online, but only to a certain degree. For example, you might not want to post pictures of your kids online. But you cannot really stop another parent from posting pictures from last weekend’s birthday party on their Facebook page, and tagging your kids. I’m not one of those who sees evil lurking around every corner. On the contrary- I have made many powerful connections and learned of many opportunities because of my presence online. But I would like to offer up a couple of suggestions to avoiding problems down the road because, as has been noted elsewhere, there is no “delete” button on the internet.
- Be nice. Words have power, so choose them carefully. The written word can be more easily misunderstood than the spoken one. Sarcasm and irony don’t often translate well. Especially in the truncated and often context-free world of Facebook updates and Twitter “tweets.”
- You never know where something you say might turn up. Gossip can spread fast through your offline social circle, but it can spread in the blink of an eye online. And maybe even to people you barely know. Always put your best foot forward- just like your mother tried to teach you. (Wearing clean underwear is less important online. To my knowledge, no one has ever been hit by a bus while blogging but, hey, it COULD happen, I guess.)
- You don’t know who might be following you via Twitter, your blog or other outward facing communications tool you might be employing. I choose to see this as a good thing, as I said, since I know I have received lots of great opportunities and made good connnections. But here’s an example of things going wrong. James Andrews, an executive at Ketchum New York posted the following tweet on his way to a client meeting with FedEx: “True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say ‘I would die if I had to live here'” Read what happened next.
The point I HOPE I’m making is that there is very little difference between the things you do and say offline versus online, so the same rules of the road ought to apply. The Washington, D.C. advice about “never put something in an e-mail that you would not want to see on the front page of the Post” is still true as we move beyond e-mail. Save yourself the embarrassment- speak the way you would like to be spoken to.
Have you ever had anything misinterpreted on the web? Have you ever said or posted something you wish you could take back? I hope this doesn’t come off as too negative or scary. It’s just something I’ve noticed a lot lately and I wanted to address it. Let me know what you think in the comments section.