avoiding social media blunders

There is a story of a woman who loved to gossip. Her words caused much damage to her neighbors, but eventually she realized the error of her ways and she went to the village priest to ask forgiveness and how she could make amends. The priest gave the woman a bag of feathers and told her to go and place one on the doorstep of every person she had ever hurt with her words. The woman thought it an odd request but did as the priest asked and spent a very long day placing feathers on every porch in town.  After completing her task, she returned to the priest and told him she was done. He then told her to go and retrieve all the feathers. She said, “There is no way I can do that. The wind has blown them away and I will never be able to find and gather them all.” The priest, after a pause, responded, “And that is the point. Just as you can never re-gather all of the feathers, so it is with your words. Once spoken, they can never be taken back.”

It is wise counsel that is even more true today. With the advent of the internet, with email, blogging and social media, once we have shared our words with the world, or even with one person, they are out there and we cannot control where they will go or who will hear or read them. You must think carefully before posting, emailing or sharing. You cannot “un-say” what you have said. There is no way to remove thoughtless words. What you say may not only hurt someone else, but can damage your reputation and even derail your career.

As I sat watching the news yesterday morning, this was reinforced more than ever. Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin said something really stupid last weekend. Admittedly, I have a fairly low tolerance for public stupidity, but as stupid goes, it was a doozy. It was so bad that even his own political party recommended he withdraw from his Senate race, but so far, he’s determined to press on. He claims his words “are being blown out of proportion” and that he shouldn’t be judged on a single mis-statement. Since this is NOT a political post (and I really don’t want to hear your political response to this), we won’t get into the details.

And on the news yesterday morning, we learned that what happens in Vegas apparently doesn’t stay in Vegas—at least not if you’re a member of the British royal family. No, I haven’t seen the pictures and really don’t wish to.

The point here is, when you throw something out there and it makes its way through social media land, you can’t take it back. One really bad photograph or even a single mis-statement can have major consequences. Sometimes it can even be a career ender. Just ask that former congressman from New York.

Not only might unwise posting get you in trouble with your followers (and if you’re a politician, your constituents) but it can also cause problems with present and future employers. I have heard from more than one person about the job they didn’t get after their future employer “googled” them.

So, how do you avoid blundering your way through the social media world?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you hit the “post” button.

  • Will this post hurt or help my business or my reputation?
  • What will happen if this post goes viral?
  • Will this post be offensive to my followers?
  • Can I find a better way to say this?
  • Is this a good idea?
  • Is it true, is it right, does it improve upon the silence? (If you’ve been around a while, you’ll recognize this as the tag line from my old blog).
  • And finally—Are you sober? (Yes, being under the influence is the cause of many a problem post)

What about you? Are you guilty of any foot-inserting social media blunders? Have you been a victim of someone else’s blunder?

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