The Permanence of Social MediaFebruary 18th, 2013 . by Richard Earls
“Why must you speak all your thoughts? Silence, if fair words stick in your throat, would serve all our ends better.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
If you are a parent, you have likely cautioned your teenage children about the dangers and permanence of social media. Facebook and Twitter are forever. An unwise post will be seen by friends, other parents, school administrators, future employers. It’s risky business to let every thought drop onto your keyboard like a gum ball.
Every now and then it pays to monitor how well we follow our own advice.
I am an unabashed fan of Facebook as a business tool. However, I am also a privacy advocate and leery of the impact of the posts we make. Ensconced among the witty remarks, funny pictures and inspirational quotes we sometimes let slip the unkind remark, the political diatribe or the unflattering shadow side of our character. Those digital footprints follow us around and become a part of our brand. As professionals we don’t want leave a trail of remarks radically divergent from our best business interests.
Consider these two unrelated posts I found in only a few moments of searching:
“I REALLY dislike this company. There are so many other/better options out there for Spain.”
“<This company> screws travel agents…don’t do business with them!!!”
Both of these posts, which I have modified only slightly to prevent them from being accurately searched, came directly from Facebook, lovingly signed by two travel professionals. I don’t know how many consumers, consortia leaders, tour operators, journalists, other travel professionals or industry leaders read those posts, or in the coming years will read them, but they live on in Facebook now forever. I want to indicate there are two victims inherent in such remarks – the company disparaged and the individual making the remark.
I’m not trying to squelch legitimate or well deserved criticism. The use of social media as an appropriate forum, however, I call into question. Why would a professional in a field act without a full consideration of the reach and potential ramifications of their comments? One of the key attributes of professionalism is discretion, the ability to discern the appropriate context for an action. There are private travel agent forums, locked up behind passwords, where professionals can address grievances. Even in such inner sanctums, however, there is a professional responsibility to be intelligent in your commentary and reasonable in your criticisms. The above remarks have more the appearance of a drive-by shooting intended to inflict damage rather than legitimate discussion of the merits of the company in question. Simply put, those comments and others like them lack professionalism. Understand – I know the people who made these posts are professionals, but their comments are outside the bounds of the ethic they uphold. Now, they own the comments forever.
Such examples are endless and I am certain we have all seen ill-considered posts by our peers in the travel industry. There are the political diatribes certain to alienate 50% of the people who read them. There are the bigoted rants against everyone of a particular ethnic or religious heritage or a critical comment that reveals to our peers and potential partners our part-time role as a loose cannon.
I once read about a computer science professor who would ask his students for a volunteer to show to the entire class their Facebook Activity Log. He never got any takers. Ironic, isn’t it? Yet, our social media posts are there for all to observe. Our social media utterances are so intertwined with other’s comments, likes, shares and re-tweets we can never disown them. Not everything is for sharing everywhere.
We need to develop an awareness of the proximity of our personality and our business persona. The situation is especially acute in a personality driven business like travel consulting. You may have a personal profile and a business page, and you may do your best to separate the two. In fact, however, the separation is razor thin. Your personality is the very core of your business. You are entitled to your opinion and if you want to deliver a biting criticism or political diatribe, the choice is yours. You may only want to do business with one type of person holding the same political or religious views as yourself. Do so, however, fully conscious of the ramifications and choose well.
People are every day deciding whether to do business with you and we all have a business persona we craft for the world. Your business potential extends in all directions around you, not just with clients but with others in your profession. Take care not to take a large chip out of your image with a post certain to shadow you for years to come.