This month, the Academy Awards will take place without a host. Kevin Hart was forced to resign the job after old offensive tweets resurfaced. This is a high-profile example of something that can affect anybody. Online posts often live forever, and there is no telling when a person will be held accountable. As social media becomes ever more integral to our lives, it is important to think carefully about the way we handle ourselves online.
Social media can be an invaluable communication tool, but many people use public platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, SnapChat and Twitter as vehicles for expressing anger and vitriol. People hiding behind their computers and phone screens commonly share angry opinions that they would never say in person. Those hateful comments then become a part of the person’s online record and, as Hart’s example proves, that record can be shockingly permanent.
“Your reputation lives online, and how you engage in social media communities can sabotage your career,” says Jessica Nunez, CEO of TruePoint Communications. “If an organization’s leader or employee goes on social media spewing hate, it can negatively impact the company for employing these folks, especially when they are leaders.”
At Acceleration Partners, our team takes social media activity into account when we hire, and more and more businesses are doing the same. It’s an important barometer of a person’s judgment. Here are some ways you can put your own best self forward online.
1. Don’t engage in the argument.
The instantaneousness of social media can work against people in tense situations. It is easy to see how a platform like Facebook can attract angry comments — people who see something they disagree with can fire off a harsh response in just a few keystrokes. It’s so easy that people quickly fall into the trap of engaging in toxic social media arguments that everyone can see.
I am a strong proponent of building emotional capacity, and part of that involves putting aside battles that are not worth fighting. Arguing on social media is often pointless. You are unlikely to change the other person’s mind, and you can put your own future at risk with a thoughtless post or comment.
Charles R. Swindoll said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” This is especially true for social media. If you see something that makes you angry, but is not personal to you in any way, try not to engage.
2. Wait awhile before you hit send.
Whether it’s an email, a text message or a social media post, responding in an emotional state can be risky and counterproductive. When you get an upsetting note, it’s tempting to lash out immediately, but it’s better to take the time to formulate an argument that you will later be able to stand behind.
Unless you are in an urgent situation, a great strategy is to craft a response and then sit on it for 24 hours without sending it. I have a folder of emails that I never sent. I wrote them to blow off steam, and I later revisited the issues when I was calmer and ready to respond appropriately. This approach provides the emotional catharsis of getting everything off your chest, but it gives you the chance to temper your reaction once you are feeling more level-headed. It’s a great strategy for protecting yourself from saying something that you might regret.
3. Use the Sunday paper test.
There is so much content on social media that it’s tempting to think of everything as abstract and temporary. Who could possibly care about a single careless post? Unfortunately, online outputs stick around forever — and you never know what the long-term implications might be. On professional networks like LinkedIn, missteps can even impact your company’s reputation and success.
Before you write your next social media entry, use this thought exercise: Imagine your post was on the cover of the Sunday morning newspaper, there in black and white for all your colleagues and neighbors to see. Would you be proud of what you said? Would you stand by it? Or would you be worried about who is seeing those comments? Using that lens to judge posts will hold your online presence to a higher standard.
For all the ways social media makes our lives better, it can also be misused and destructive. It is important to remember that your social media activity will last forever. Since you don’t know who will see your comments, either now or in the future, live online as if anybody could be watching.