Jekyll in person, Hyde of social media

Oh, social networks. Where from the comfort of your living room you can make your point known to millions of people. People and businesses have gone from virtual unknowns to global phenomenons (think “Gangnam Style”) thanks to social media. Then there are those who fell from grace like a lead balloon (think Roseanne Barr, Anthony Weiner, or Paula Deen) because of social media. Both spikes and drops can happen quickly and without warning. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even have to be true. Fake news travels as fast as the truth. It just has to be tempting. It doesn’t have to go viral either; a handful of viewers may see something that will alter their opinions of the person posting.

That viewer could be your current or future boss, client, or business partner.

Before I continue, I want to be very careful to treat this topic with respect and not take sides on any political, religious, or social issues. My goal is to shed light on social media and how it could affect your professional livelihood, not to tell you which point of view is right or wrong.

Suppose you are a businessman who would like to have me as a client. You and I have met for coffee several times and we seem to hit it off. You friend me on Facebook, wanting to get to know me better to understand how you could help solve my business problems and gain my trust in a business relationship. After we connect on social media, I see very passionate posts from you mocking a point of view I hold and telling people like me that we must be idiots to support such an egregious position. So you say something like, “If you believe in then get rid of me now!” As your prospective client, I am confused as to how someone who is so nice face-to-face (Dr. Jekyll) can be so venomous on social media, even delivering an ultimatum (Mr. Hyde). Ultimately, I choose not to do business with you, not because you have a particular point of view, but because you rebuke others who believe differently.

Looking at the above scenario, there are a few business relationship guiding principles that seem to disappear with many on social media:

  • Not everyone thinks the same as you.
  • Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean the world should know about it.
  • When your posts are vague or generalized, you let the reader decide what you meant, which could be quite different from what you intended to convey.
  • You may be denied a job due to questionable social media posts. According to a survey sponsored by The Manifest, 90% of employers look at potential employees’ social media profiles and 79% have rejected a candidate based on what they found.
  • If you’re trying to sell an idea or convince people to act a certain way, you shouldn’t do it by telling them what an idiot they are.

I want to illustrate this last point. Imagine walking into a car dealership and the salesperson greets you at the door. You tell him you want to buy a car and he asks what you are currently driving. You take him to your car and he proceeds to tell you how ugly the car is and what a fool you are for driving such a repulsive vehicle. Do you see this person as credible and want to buy a car from them? I would dare to say that it is not an opportunity. Yet this is what I see over and over again on social media. People trash other viewpoints and berate everyone who believes those views, instead of simply extolling the positive benefits of their own viewpoint.

When posting on social media, keep the following five points in mind:

  1. Assume everyone sees everything – I heard that some entrepreneurs with business and personal profiles use that as a license to not filter on personal profiles and more restricted on business profiles. The problem is that the two are not always mutually exclusive. There are many people I know in my business life with connections in both our personal and business profiles. What I see posted on their personal profiles influences what I think about them in a professional setting. Unfortunately, some I admired professionally have had their credibility damaged by what they say on their personal social media profiles.
  2. Be clear on what you post and why – Personally, I love posting photos of the places we travel to, the experiences we have, and the foods we eat. We do it largely to let friends know what’s going on with us and to have a little fun. We also have a happy hour reviews website where we post happy hour reviews of local restaurants that we’ve been told help others in the area decide where to go for happy hour. Professionally, I publish information about our different businesses to attract current and future clients.
  3. Knowledge is knowing what to say, wisdom is knowing when (or if) to say it – Just because you have a point of view about something doesn’t mean the world should know about it. I know several professionals who choose not to discuss their social, political, or religious views on social media. Wise move.
  4. Suppose you live forever – Platforms like Instagram have stories that disappear after a set period of time. That won’t stop someone from taking a screenshot of the post and sharing it elsewhere. Assume that anything you post will live forever and might come back to bite you.
  5. Resist posting when upset or incapacitated. There are many examples where someone posted something and then had to apologize for a “lapse of judgment”. Meanwhile, the post goes viral, then the person tries to delete it to no avail after being captured and shared over and over again.

There is no argument that social media is a critical tool to promote your point of view and build your business and professional platform. Just avoid being Jekyll in person and Hyde on social media.

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