There is no doubt that social media has revolutionised the way we communicate. But there are also many widely known downsides. For some, the lack of face-to-face interaction can be desensitising, meaning it’s all too easy to forget that there is a human being on the receiving end of an angry email or nasty tweet. The #bekind movement has been a wake-up call, reminding us all to be aware of how we treat others in the virtual world.
And it’s just as important to be mindful of how we communicate in our professional network as well as our social circle. Being critical, or arguing publicly, can not only be upsetting to the person it’s directed at, it can also be hugely damaging to your reputation – it could be their (lasting) first impression of you.
A few instances lately have had us choking on our Earl Grey. We’ve spotted a number of unfriendly spats on LinkedIn recently that seem to have escalated into mud-slinging affairs. Others have then joined in or tried to calm it but we just sat back and watched – making a decision to most likely never work with the people involved. That kind of volatility doesn’t look good in a professional space! A more high profile example is the tweet from Coleen Nolan’s agent, Melanie Blake, criticising the Loose Women star’s colleague, Nadia Sawalha.
It seems like a good time for us all to remind ourselves of the old adage, ‘If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’
But isn’t all publicity good publicity?
A public feud can be a great publicity ploy for all involved but only when there’s a level playing field – think Oasis vs Blur in the ‘90s. There’s a difference between reciprocal competitive banter and a one-sided personal attack.
The tweet from Coleen’s agent drew a huge amount of attention to her new book, which was undoubtedly the intention. While she might benefit from extra sales, how will her comments affect her career as an agent? Has she created difficulties for her current clients, and will they be concerned about what she might say about them in the future?
Can I disagree with someone online?
Of course you can! Healthy debate is vital for working through issues, raising awareness, and deciding on best practice.
But remember, you never know who is reading your words – it could be a potential client, supplier, or employer. Be careful how you phrase your argument. If someone is critical or disagrees with you, it’s easy to let your passion take over but try to state your case professionally and however angry you might feel, do not make personal or rude remarks – (yes, we have seen this on LinkedIn recently and it’s very off-putting!)
And don’t get involved in conflict on strangers’ threads, unless it’s an issue that directly affects you and your business and you intend to simply set the record straight.
What if someone is unfairly critical or rude about me/my business online?
Here is where you need to make a judgement call. If the poster is not well-known and influential in your industry, or is clearly seeking a reaction, it’s often better to ignore their comments rather than draw attention to them.
Otherwise, as above, address their points factually, without letting your emotions cloud your words. The best way to deflect rude or personal comments is with a composed and respectful response. Imagine you are writing it for someone else – that will take the heat out for you.
If you’re concerned that their comments could have wider repercussions, you might like to call on a PR pro to help you prepare a statement to reactively issue to media if it’s that big or just to post on your website in reply to them.
Above all, the most important point to remember is always to communicate with people as if they are in the room with you. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t type it in a post.
If you’d like more advice on how to manage your online reputation, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org