The consequences of a thoughtless comment, an ill-conceived joke it’s surprisingly easy to ruin your reputation. It can be done in a matter of moments, using 140 characters or less. Just ask Justine Sacco, the PR exec who thoughtlessly Tweeted a racist joke (without realizing how racist it was). Even though she only had 170 followers, her Tweet exploded, making her the #1 trending topic on Twitter. She was fired from her job and ripped to shreds by the online masses.
Lindsey Stone is another example. A seemingly innocent photo to her was interpreted as intentional disrespect for American veterans. Like Sacco, she was fired. She had to essentially go into hiding for months.
The point? It’s terrifyingly easy to ruin your reputation. A simple mistake on Facebook or Twitter can quickly snowball into a personal disaster. How can you avoid making a mistake of Sacco proportions?
Here are four ways to avoid ruining your online reputation.
Never Post Something You Wouldn’t Discuss In A Crowded Room
Social media is deceiving. When you’re posting a Tweet or a Facebook status, it’s just you and your phone (or computer). It feels like an isolated experience. The normal social inhibitions that restrain us in personal conversation are eliminated on social media.
Social media is anything but isolated. If you have 100 Twitter followers, everything you say is being broadcast to 100 (or more) people. Never say something that you wouldn’t be comfortable discussing in a crowded room. Many people are going to be reading what you say, and the power of sharing could literally put your post in front of thousands of people.
When In Doubt, Leave It Out
If you find yourself wondering about a potential status update, do not post it. Most people on Facebook and Twitter don’t really know you. They don’t know when you’re joking or serious. They can’t hear the inflection in your voice or see your facial expressions.
All they see is the words you’ve put on the screen. They don’t have any context and you can’t add further explanation. If you find yourself in doubt, leave it out.
Stay Out Of Online Feuds
It can be tempting to trade barbs with someone online, but it’s a losing game. Because you’re “safe” behind your screen, you’ll be tempted to say things you wouldn’t say in person. Things that could portray you in ways that are less than flattering.
When you wade into online feuds, you are arguing in front of the world. You’re showing all your dirty laundry. Would you get into a shouting match on a busy street? I doubt it. But when you trade barbs online, that’s essentially what you’re doing.
Be Careful What You Share
Sharing an article, image, or video is as simple as one click. But you have to be extraordinarily careful when sharing. Remember, every source you share has associations and connotations in people’s minds. People will form opinions of your character based on the source of the items you share.
Before you share an article, video, or image, ask yourself, What judgments will people make about me based on this material? Or more importantly, do I really know if the information I’m sharing is accurate?
Social media is like an avalanche. A small or snarky remark can trigger massive destruction, leaving you out in the cold. Choose your status updates carefully. Think before you press “post”. Remember, you never post in a vacuum. People are always reading and sharing and interpreting what you say.