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Social Media: Beware what you share!

April 27, 2011

So we’ve all heard, no doubt, that it’s important to be careful about what we share on social media platforms. But, has it ever occurred to you that you might be affecting your FUTURE by what you say/don’t say?  I had a first-hand look at exactly that recently, and it really drove the message home.

A few weeks ago, I was attending an event in Southern California. The event was pretty much unrelated to my business; oh, there were a few people there who knew what I do, and I had some acquaintances there who know me pretty well. But, in general, there was no “connection” to me, to SocialSmarts, to my business.

At the end of the evening, a group of us were sitting around a table, chatting about the event.  I knew most of the people at the table, but then some other folks sat down and joined us — people I didn’t know. After introductions were made and independent conversations broke out between groups of two or three people, as they often do in these types of settings, one of the ladies that had just joined us leans over to me and says, “Excuse me, but do you know ‘such-and-so?'” I answered that, yes, I did. My conversation partner went on to ask me if the person in question used to work for my company, and when I answered that yes they did, she shared with me that this person apparently had applied for a job with her organization.  Not only that, but the person then invited her to join her Facebook page, which she did.

Now, is where it gets interesting. My conversation partner went on to share that after following ‘such-and-so’ for a while on Facebook, she began to get the impression that the person was a “whiner” (her terms).  She commented on the many complaints that ‘such-and-so’ posted about her life, her current work situation, her health.  Long story short, my conversation partner explained to me that what she had read on “such-and-so’s” Wall caused her to form an opinion about what the person would be like as an employee, and she subsequently decided not to pursue hiring them.

Wow.  Now, there are many lessons we could – and should – learn from this story.  Here are a few:

  • Obviously, be careful what you talk about on social media sites.  This may seem obvious, but it’s hugely important.  Not only because of what you say, but how others may perceive it.
  • When you are sharing with folks on FB, Twitter, etc. remember that you are not only communicating to your group, you may also be sharing to THEIR groups, and their group’s groups. What you think you’re saying in relative “safety” of your personal network could be shared with hundreds, thousands, even hundreds of thousand of people or more, depending not only on your settings but on their settings as well.
  • Be particularly careful if you mix business with personal contacts.  While “dishing” about your neighbor’s annoyingly barky dogs may seem like it’s no big deal, what impression will that leave to a business contact? What if the business contact is best friend’s with your neighbor?
  • Corollary to the above: don’t always assume that people’s “states” remain static. What I mean is, people with whom you only have a personal relationship with now may end up changing their context later. What if a “friend” becomes a potential vendor/supplier/employee/employer later? What if a “friend” has the potential to influence a business deal or job for you down the road?
  • Also, consider the permanence of messages and written word/pictures/video anytime you put anything out there on the ‘Net. What if you post a “hilarious” but unflattering picture of yourself overdoing it at a family BBQ, only to have it come back to haunt you during a job interview a year, two, ten down the road? What if you don’t even GET considered for opportunities because your prospective employer has done a thorough Google search on you and found these under “images?”
  • You must also consider the power of communication and the limitations that come into play when we move from face-to-face, to phone, to hand-written, to typed/email/texted messages. I explain more about this in the “It’s Not Who You Know...” book, and it’s enough of a topic for another post later, but let’s just say that every time you remove another layer of interaction, there’s a new layer of potential misunderstanding. Choose your words carefully.

Now, these tips are only some of the things you need to consider, and they are intended to adults.  Of course, our kids have a whole additional set of things they need to think about, and I’m going to be writing about this in the not-too-distant future. 

If you aren’t thinking about what you say on social media before you say it, then you may be opening yourself up to unintended — and unpredictable — consequences.  Say what you mean, mean what you say, and remember that you can’t always control who’s out there to hear it, save it, use it later.

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