Over lockdown you may find yourself on social media platforms a lot of the time. Whether you need to post for work purposes, are taking a breather, or are just scrolling through your feeds to keep up with friends and family, social media has come to dominate many aspects of our lives. It is thus more important than ever for us to be aware of how social media can affect our personal and professional reputations.
First, let’s tackle what seems to be a prevailing societal belief: The right to complain. With the rise of ‘consumer activism’ comes an enduring myth that what you say on social media will not have any repercussions. You cannot say whatever you like – not even anonymously. You can be sued for reputational damage if your comments are found to be defamatory (i.e. they damage the reputation of a company or individual).
Usually, you need only tick three boxes to be sued for defamation:
- Your comments must be broadcast publicly (regardless of how many people see it – it can be one person, or several thousand). Once your content is published on a social media platform, it is considered to be in the public domain.
- They need to refer to the company or person directly or indirectly, and in a manner which makes them easily identifiable.
- It needs to damage their reputation (it does not matter whether your comments are true or untrue).
The golden rule is to avoid saying anything that could be interpreted in a way that proves you meet all the criteria above. Do not post in anger – once your opinion is out there, chances are that at least one person (and that’s one too many) will see it.
The impression you leave on social media is a lasting one, and a single action or post may have severe and unintended consequences. While it takes only a few minutes (or seconds) for your post to be lost among millions of others, there are instances where old posts can be dredged up by trolls. Think about all the racist videos that have gone viral: A ‘private’ rant you have among your friends can quickly escalate.
The concept of ‘privacy’ on social media is farcical. If you have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn account, you are in the public eye. Current and/or potential employers have access to these profiles, and, if you aren’t careful about what you say, or how you use these platforms, you need to be.
A word of caution too about direct messages (DMs): Being
sarcastic in response to your employer’s query is equivalent to being sarcastic
in person, and you have just immortalised that in a message you may not be able
to erase. In a digital world, the best rule of thumb is to think before you hit
Just because we are using electronic and text-based media to communicate does not mean you can forget to practise basic interpersonal skills. In fact, the skills you would use when networking face-to-face become even more important. It makes sense, then, that you want to employ this in deciding whether a contact, or potential contact, is worth connecting with. It may sound complicated and a bit daunting, but using social media is lot like dating – you need to employ your sixth sense when it comes to sussing people out. These are the five types of people you’ll want to avoid.
- The creep: Unfortunately, you are probably going to encounter this type across all of your social media accounts. They will start conversations with you, pretending to know someone you do (maybe they do, maybe they just went through your list of friends/followers/contacts), or wanting to connect you with one of their business contacts. Their questions will take a more personal turn – they will ask you about where you live, whether you are married, and don’t be surprised if they start sending you pictures of themselves. There is only one way to deal with them: Report and block!
- The chronic complainer: You know the type – they post cryptic and sometimes not-so-cryptic messages about all the things that have irked them – they complain about poor service delivery, go on rants about why they are entitled to x but don’t/can’t have it, and are just generally negative and miserable.
- The jealous lover (or hater): This type is a combination of the first two categories, but, while they are as self-obsessed as 2), they are also stuck on comparing themselves to, and competing with, anyone they see as successful or happy. Driven by greed, envy, and a belief that they need to keep up with the Joneses, they are one of the worst types of people you’ll encounter in life or on social media.
- The user: Characterised by an attitude of ‘What have you done for me lately?’ they’ll try their luck in all sorts of ways. They will try to use you for a place to stay, for a lift, a free meal, and for free advice. Nothing comes cheap or easy – don’t let them waste your time and energy.
- The troll: Their arsenal includes bullying, gas lighting, and emotional and verbal abuse. There is no cure for this one, so report and block. You’ll also want to take that approach if that behaviour extends beyond social media.
So, how do you maintain meaningful connections while navigating this minefield? Social media can be exhausting and overwhelming, especially if you use it for many interactions. The key is maintaining and curating only the relationships you really want.
Increasingly, collaboration and information-sharing are becoming more important in the job market. The effective cultivation and curation of your professional network has, perhaps, never been so crucial. The real question is: How do I make meaningful connections with people in an increasingly digitised world?
These are some of the things you can do to ensure that you stand out as both an effective communicator and a valuable connection:
- Follow and tag people (or companies) considered established thought leaders, trendsetters, and who are up-and-coming influencers in posts you write and share. They will probably appreciate the tag and acknowledgement because it shows that you have taken the time to get to know them and what interests them. Be careful, though – it is important to use discretion and common sense when you tag others. For example, you don’t want to tag someone who has confided that they are looking for a new job in a public post: If their employer sees that it could make things very awkward for them. It also indicates that you can’t be trusted with sensitive information. If you do see a position they may be interested in, rather send them a DM with the link.
- Send personalised and carefully-considered invitations when you choose to connect. There is nothing worse than receiving a connection request that is a) accompanied by a generic and/or vague message or b) says nothing at all. Take the time to read through someone’s profile carefully and explain why you want to connect. You can also ask a mutual connection for an introduction.
- Don’t spam people! It is simply disrespectful to mine your contacts’ email addresses and send them unsolicited or unwanted newsletters. This is one way to really annoy your contacts and make them not want to do business with you, especially if no opt-out clause is included.
What happens if you find yourself in the awkward position of having to reject the advances of an over-zealous contact who is clearly looking to sell you something, or who is eager to climb the social (media) ladder? You have two options: Be diplomatic and tell them that you find their messages overwhelming/pushy, or unfollow them. If they really don’t get it, you will have to remove the connection altogether.
Maintaining and growing your social media networks takes a fair amount of time and effort, but, if done well, you will reap the rewards for years to come. You want to connect with the right sorts of people, and you will learn how to do this by following the steps outlined above as well as by trusting your own instincts. It isn’t as scary as it sounds – so start small and practise until you become more effective at introducing yourself and the values you represent (in non-offensive ways). If you need appropriate, curated, and well-managed social media content, contact me today.