A few years ago I was listening to the Gimlet Media podcast “Reply All,” the short documentary audio stories about the internet. One of their early episodes featured the unfortunate tale of Lindsey Stone, a young woman who did something really stupid. She and her friend would go around to signs and take pictures in front of the sign doing the opposite of what the sign says. Just silly stuff.
One day they were visiting Arlington National Cemetery and one of the women took a photo of herself yelling and flipping the bird in front of a “Silence and Respect” sign. They posted it to Facebook, thinking nothing of it.
Eventually, it went viral and she started getting hate tweets, death threats, hate email, etc. Within a day, a Facebook page was created as a campaign to have her fired. She eventually lost her job, was ostracized, developed depression and insomnia, and was afraid to leave her home for a year.
It took $200,000 worth of pro bono work from Reputation.com and nearly two years for her to get a semblance of a life back. All over a stupid Facebook pic.
Stupidity lasts forever
Lindsey’s story is by no means unique. I’m sure at some point you’ve heard of various celebrities who have been fired, or “cancelled” due to something stupid they did 10, 15, even 20+ years ago.
- When Trevor Noah was first announced as Comedy Central’s replacement to Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, within a day he was criticized for stupid and insensitive tweets he made going back to as far as 2009. He was a new comic trying to be funny. Now 2-4 years later, he’s having to deal with it.
- Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn was “temporarily” and literally fired by Disney back in 2018 when old tweets about rape, AIDS, and 9/11 resurfaced. (He was reinstated less than a year later after a wide-spread campaign from colleagues and his own heart-felt public apology).
- Comedian Kevin Hart was let go from hosting The Oscars after a series of homophobic tweets from 7 years earlier came up.
The lesson? If you’re a comic, don’t try out your edgier work on social media. (Or, maybe the lesson is, don’t be a comic?) Just kidding.
But trust me, there is a lesson to learn in all of this. A lesson about how to manage your online and social presence widely in a world where something you say or do can literally spread around the world within minutes, even SECONDS of you saying or doing it.
Keeping in mind that everything you put on the interest pretty much lasts forever, let’s look at some strategies you should keep in mind when managing your online presence.
1. Have separate accounts for business and personal
I think the #1 thing you should do is have separate accounts for social media interaction for your business and you as an individual. The Twitter account where I am most active is @BladeRonner. But @RonDawson is my personal Twitter account (which I rarely use). On Facebook, ideally you should use a Facebook page for your business and your personal Facebook account for friends and family. I started back on Facebook before the advent of pages, so I use my personal Facebook account for business and personal. So that’s why suggestion #2 is crucial for me.
2. Establish policies and procedures
You need to establish policies and procedures for how, what, when, where, and why you post on social media. Ideally you should have these written down somewhere, particularly if you have employees who represent you. But minimally you should at least have them in your head.
As a general rule of thumb, your social media shares on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok should be related to a theme or topic for which you want to be known. The overwhelming majority of your followers are following you because you share content that is of interest to them. Honor their investment in your social media brand by keeping the bulk of your content “on brand.”
For example, take comedic impersonator Mary Elizabeth Kelly. She’s no D’Amelio, but she has built a pretty decent following of nearly 600K with her “mouth acting” series.
Remember that everything you post online is a reflection of your brand (both business and personal). One of your policies needs to be tip #3.
3. Don’t use social media (or other public forums) as platforms for personal arguments
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Facebook posts of people lambasting, attacking, or calling out other people; sometimes for things which are deeply personal. First off, it comes across as tacky. But secondly, you open yourself up to attack also. Definitely don’t do it with your business account; and it’s advisable not to do it with your personal one either. There are times when picking up a phone and talking to people is the best course of action.
Where I might make an exception to this rule (somewhat) is if your “brand” is about such attacks. Now, I’m not one to judge, but if you want to be known for picking fights with large internet personalities, more power to you if it works for you. My recommendation would be to “punch up.” In other words, pick on influencers and celebrities who are bigger than you. Don’t use your presence to hurt or attack “the little guy” (unless that person or company is a genuinely horrible person that is posting harmful things like racist, misogynist, or homophobic content).
4. Maintain smart password, security, and permission policies
Back in the fall of 2008, I produced an online reality series called The Longest Day. It was the first series of its kind by, for, and about professional photographers. Two of the photographer cast members played a practical joke on me. I was logged into Facebook, and when I wasn’t looking, they replaced my profile pic with a picture of a shirtless guy trying to lick his nipple. I started getting these tweets like “Um, Ron, I think your Facebook was hacked.”
It was a very funny point in the show (which is why I left it in). But it underscores the importance of not letting your account get into the wrong hands. Use strong passwords for all your accounts. Use a service like LastPass as a way to manage them all. If you work on public computers and need to log into Gmail, Twitter, or Facebook, make sure the “Remember this computer” check-box is NOT checked.
A second bit of advice as it relates to password security is implementing two-factor authentication (aka 2FA). 2FA usually works in one of three ways. When you attempt to log into an account, you’re emailed a temporary access code, texted an access code, or prompted to use an app like Google Authenticator or Authy to log in. Generally speaking, the 2FA apps are the most secure. I’m a fan of Authy as it provides an online backup of your master access code. So should you ever lose or switch your mobile device, you can still access your account. That’s currently not the case with Google Authenticator. (I lost complete access to my original Reddit account because I had established my 2FA with Google Authenticator on an old phone. When I attempted to log into Reddit with my new phone, my Google Authenticator app one the new phone was not linked to the original G.A. account. I mistakenly assumed downloading the app and logging in would allow me to access the accounts I previously secured.)
Lastly, it should go without saying that your security preferences for your various social media accounts should be updated to the levels you require. These preferences typically control such things as the ways in which you other accounts can interact with you, who can see your account, how media is handled on your account, 2FA settings, etc. Make it a point to find the security settings of all your social media accounts and update them.
6. Remember that nothing is “private” online
I like to assume everything I write online or send via the internet will someday be public for everyone to see. Whether I write an email or post something on a private forum, I ask myself, “If what I’m about to write was one day posted online for the world to see, would I be okay with that?” If the answer is “no”, I don’t write it. Just ask former Sony Pictures president Amy Pascal what she thinks. (full disclaimer: I’m not great at this. I don’t think anyone is. But I try real hard).
What tips do you have for protecting your online brand and wisely using social media? Share with us online @UNUMcloud.