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Hot Topic: Maintaining Your Social Media Reputation

This has been a hot topic of conversation of late wherever a conversation can take place.  Blogs, twitter, at work, everywhere.  Two of the main questions asked in this debate:

  • How do maintain a good reputation on social media/networking sites?
  • Can you or should you blend personal and professional comments?

First, let us discuss twitter:

In recent blog posts, people have been giving phenomenal examples of people destroying their social media reputation.  There’s the FedEx/Ketchum twitter oops that has been a part of conversations.  The culprit in this case chose to share his true feelings about an area which he was visiting; not a wise move (click the link above to learn why).   It is extremely difficult to share your thoughts in 140 characters without the chance of having what you say misconstrued.

This, among other happenings, brought on a debate on whether or not there should be a ‘best practices’ or regulation for twitter use among people at my work.  The argument for regulation: each employee is a representative of the agency, and for each client.  If one of us were to say something deemed offensive by others, it may reflect negatively on the agency, on the clients, and may detract potential clients from dealing with my work.

By regulating what you can or can not say on twitter, are you infringing on the First Amendment: Freedom of Speech?

My proposed solutions: ban twitter at work; or, trust that your employees aren’t idiots.

To answer the questions above for twitter (in my opinion): you build and maintain your reputation by being yourself and using common sense; you can and should combine personal with professional tweets.  It all depends on what you want people to know about you.

Let’s talk facebook and myspace:

I will share a story about my first experience with how what my facebook profile was showing had an impact on what others thought.  During my senior year, I was walking into my market research class.  Knowing I was late, I tried to make a graceful, quiet enterance.  Unfortunately, my seat was in the front row, and hiding myself, a 6’4” hunk of a man, is difficult to do.  My professor stopped her teachings, said ‘hello Jason! Looks like you had a fun weekend…’ which greatly confused me to how she would know what I did over the weekend.  I wasn’t in St. Cloud with any of my classmates; I was back home here in the Twin Cities area.  She then referenced some pictures that were tagged of me on what she called ‘face space’ (meant facebook), and gave me a warning/advice that I’ve used and share when I can:’might want to be careful what you post about yourself, it could cost you a job.’  That night, I de-tagged myself from over 100 photos where I looked blacked out, or was doing something stupid.  To this day, I am very careful about what pictures are taken and tagged of me.

Facebook and myspace are more visual than twitter.  It may not be so much what you say on facebook, but what you allow to be showed.

Why does it matter what you post on twitter or facebook?  These sites, specifically what you put on them, represent who you are whether you like it or not.  Think of yourself as a brand; people only know what they can see.  What your audience can see is how you’ll be seen.

Despite the legal right to post whatever we want, pictures, status updates, pledge our allegiance to a group, team, or politician; it matters to others.  If you have a picture that depicts you in a non-sober state, one may think that you’re priorities are your social life versus your professional life.  If you have numerous pictures that show you holding three shots in one hand, two cigarettes in another hand, and eyes as glossy as can be, you make it easy for someone to come up with 1,000 words to describe who you are based on a picture.

Is this right? No.  Is this reality? Yes.

Some people have created both personal and professional twitter and/or facebook accounts.  Others choose to make their profiles private only to their friends.   This is something that I will never do; I have nothing to hide. In my opinion, if someone makes their profile private, that means there is something worth hiding, something that the person knows should not be public.  We have the power to control exactly what is out there about ourselves.   You can still show you have a party side without looking like you don’t remember the picture you’re in, and still look attractive to an employer, a future boyfriend or girlfriend, etc.

To answer the questions above for facebook/myspace (in my opinion): you build and maintain your reputation by being yourself and using common sense; you can and should combine personal with professional tweets.  It all depends on what you want people to know about you.

Notice how the answers are the same for both twitter and facebook/myspace.  Tips for not being put into social media purgatory:

  • be yourself
  • be smart
  • if your Mom and Dad would be ashamed of  what you’re saying or how you look in a pic, don’t post it

Good luck!

~J

twitter: @jasondouglas

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  1. jared
    January 25, 2009 at 10:27 PM

    great post JD. I completely agree on the private profiles. I beleive in transparency for personal and company brands. You can’t “hide” who you are as a company or person with social media and user generated content.

  2. January 25, 2009 at 11:18 PM

    I completely agree with the common sense aspect of online presence you have presented. People should be aware of their audience (or potential audience) and utilize online presence accordingly. Unfortunately, many people are still living in the age of expected internet anonymity. Like you, none of my profiles are private because that would defeat the purpose of social networking pages. I have been in many situations where people comment that a photographer should not post pictures on Facebook for one reason or another. At some point, people need to decide why they are participating in something they would not want others to see. Rather than avoiding photographs of compromising situations, people should be avoiding compromising situations.

    Twitter is a much easier beast to tame in the sense of online reputation. You control your own persona. A business should hire employees they trust to build the reputation of the business and the client. Twitter on a personal account is free word of mouth advertising. If a client is difficult, don’t use their name in a Tweet; if a client has an incredible product, tweet to all of your friends/followers as you would in a non-digital conversation.

    Common sense? I would hope so.

  3. Liz
    January 26, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    Nicely said! I totally agree with you. Companies can come up with a “best practices” or “guidelines” document for Twitter/SM use, but it’s basically “don’t be an idiot.” I think what you cover in this post is the best “best practices” you can follow- what you say and what you post represents who you are, and like you said- it’s not right, but it’s reality.

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