In Business, Social Media Doesn’t Mean Social Life

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Social media management isn’t a new concept. It’s still information management, applied to real-time public communication that uses social media applications, like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube, to name a few.

Depending on your goals as a business owner, freelancer or entrepreneur, this means exercising a mix of public relations, customer relations, customer service, marketing, and promotions, adjusting your actions to fit the situation at hand. Social media management software like Hootsuite, SeesMic and TweetDeck came to being out of people’s need to control their social media accounts, with tasks ranging from scheduling tweets in a pre-set order, to consolidating assorted accounts under one roof, so to speak.

As with many media tools, the application is only as good as the user’s familiarity with their chosen apps and their understanding of the rules of communication. It isn’t just restricted to controlling the way information is delivered or shared; there are many important things to consider when you want to send a message. Factors like appropriateness, intention, tone, and audience are vital. For the long goals like building brand-recognition, there’s also establishing trust and responsibility with the sum of your interactions.

Think of the following sites: Overhead in New York, Overhead in the Office and Overhead Everywhere. These websites collect snippets of random conversations submitted by their readers. These are stories of conversations people overhead, and yes, at first glance the accounts shared on these sites can be TMI. Over-sharing. Oopsies. But these conversations weren’t really meant for the general public, even though they were said in public places. They’re just snatches of conversation listeners found amusing or notable, and so they were shared online. The boundaries are very nebulous here.

Now think of email mistakes where the reply was sent to the wrong person, or a private reply was sent to an entire mailing list. Take a minute to cringe as you remember your own mistakes, or recall those stories shared by friends.

To maintain a good professional image, you have to accept that there are boundaries you must observe. If you want to protect your boundaries and have them protect you, especially on the internet, then you need to have a good idea of where yours are drawn and enforce the living hell out of them.

In a business setting, social media does not mean social life. The behavior you exhibit when you’re with old friends, for example, can’t extend to the public setting. If, say, you said something off, then backtrack after realizing that you were out of line but think it’ll be fine, because “Of course they know what I meant, they know me!” Your friends might, in conversation, but on-record and on-line? Casual readers won’t. Just to say something, people can pile up on that one comment and boom, they start something nasty.

“All publicity is good publicity.” During the heyday of TV, radio broadcasting and publishing, this kind of thinking worked since the power was in the hands of the gatekeepers. Now anyone with a smartphone can make a vlog (video blog) post as fast as upload speeds allow them. It’s easier to get potentially embarrassing information online, by fair means or foul, and sometimes all it takes is a small spark to ignite a storm of controversy.

If you don’t intend to be a flash in the pan (or crash and burn), you have to design a social media presence that is trustworthy, respected, and supported by a sustainable system and an impeccable communication code of conduct.

“Sharing is caring.” The ‘over’ in ‘over-share’ is a good indicator– over, as in ‘too much’. When it comes to communication, there is a line between ”Enough’ and ‘Too Much’. It’s the same line that can protect us from misunderstandings, personal attacks and rumors. Information is knowledge, knowledge is power. Be careful who you share your information with.

The rise and development of the internet made it the communication tool that changed the world. It connected –and is still connecting –more people than anyone ever previously thought possible in human history, but with all game-changers, there are always negative aspects attached. As with any tool, the users can also wield it for good or for ill. There are trolls, hecklers and plain mean-spirited, willfully ignorant people everywhere.

The same speed that can help pass an important message on using the internet is the same speed that can blow up a simple tweet or picture into ruinous publicity, and spread reputation-destroying rumors instead of information. Here’s a memory exercise to help you see this principle in action: Based on the prompts below, how many of them have you experienced yourself, or had friends who experienced them, or know of people who did?

  • False attributions, fake accounts, information them, identity theft and online impersonation.
  • Hacking, ‘doxxing’ (spreading someone’s private information, ex. real name, address and contact numbers, etc)
  • Cyber-bullying and harassment.

Now take a few minutes to read the following prompts and see what memories, reactions and plans they elicit in the movie of your mind. Have pen and paper handy, you’ll need to capture ideas to include in your communication planning:

  • Professional and personal issues.
  • Inappropriate material.
  • Unprofessional conduct.
  • Communication boundaries.
  • Private and public sphere.
  • Personal and professional sphere.
  • ‘Persona’ and personal.
  • Think before you say anything.
  • Think before you click.

See? When it comes online communication, you probably have dozens of incidents where things went wrong for various reasons: bad communications skills, miscommunication, lack of awareness of personal boundaries (and professional ones), etc. The list is very long, and as technology and people shift and adapt, new issues will be added to that list.

You need to define how much of yourself you’re willing to share on-line, and do everything possible to protect the parts of your life that you want to keep private. This may or may not conflict with the things you need to do to get your business to succeed, and so you need firm guidelines to help you navigate the conflicts you’ll encounter.

One way of testing to make sure your messages don’t get misinterpreted is to filter them with these questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? You can also apply the 4-Way Test: 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Guiding yourself by these questions helps define how you conduct yourself with other people, providing you a code of conduct to aspire to, and that includes communication too.

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