It is a quirk of living in modern society, where communication went from being nearly always done with your name and reputation attached, to now often anonymous. In the world of online personas, and increasing communication done through computers, everyone now has a choice whether to engage the world under their own name, or under a pseudonym.
The problem with losing face-to-face connections as our primary mode of communication is that it is far easier to pretend the “person” you are talking to isn’t really a person at all – To see them as nothing more than words on a screen. This leads to the impulse to say things that you would never dream of saying if they were standing next to you. Bullying, rape threats, ordering people to go kill themselves – these are all sad examples of how modern communication is desensitizing us all. But while these are extreme examples that, you might protest, you don’t engage in, when was the last time you took a long, hard look at your own online “persona”?
Whether you use your own name or you have an anonymous handle, the lines are beginning to blur. Tools have been developed to trace the worst of the comments back to their owners – and there have been real-world consequences to those supposedly anonymous postings, such as students being expelled from school, or adults losing lucrative jobs. Less newsworthy, how many sales are lost because a potential customer did a basic Web search and found communications they found objectionable, so took their business elsewhere?
Whether you proudly post under your own name, or currently hide your more controversial opinions (and everyone has a few of those) behind a cute handle, you must assume that, eventually, someone who matters, who will impact your career in some way, will read them. What do you want them to find?
Too often in today’s world, passion for a subject or cause is equated with the ability to say anything you want. Too often, even those posting under their own names default to name-calling, insults and bullying, while hiding under the umbrella of “I’m just really passionate about that topic”. Now, I’m not advocating that you stop being passionate – even when I might disagree with someone, if they are passionate about something, and civil in their defense of it, I will hold a great deal of respect for them.
But that’s the key – eloquent. Telling someone who disagrees with you to “go jump off a bridge” isn’t eloquence, it’s defaulting to that – incorrect – impression that the screen is just a screen, and you are not talking to another living human. Turning to insults or taunting – or worse – simply because you disagree isn’t the way you would conduct yourself if you were having that conversation face-to-face, so why go that route online?
In one current example of this, in a local board on social networking site Reddit, one company representative’s bad behavior on Facebook is quickly spreading, and will have real-world costs as users are already looking to boycott future events and take their business elsewhere. The company in question even later tried to delete the tirades and name calling it engaged in, but users had already taken screenshots and are continuing to spread the story. It is a good example of how losing your temper on the Internet can cause a backlash you can’t erase even after cooler heads prevail.
Manage Your Reputation
Your online reputation is just as important as your physical one, so if you haven’t lately, it’s time to take a long, hard look at the person you are projecting to the world. How do you do that? How do you differentiate between passion and crossing the line? Here are a few tips to help you evaluate your online image:
1. Read through your old comments. Go back to older conversations, that you’ve gotten some distance from, and be honest with yourself – when not in the heat of the moment, would you post the same thing again?
2. Ask someone you trust. Whether it is a significant other, a family member, a business partner, a mentor or someone else in your life, ask for their opinion. Find out if they believe your online persona matches the image you project in your day-to-day life.
3. Talk to customers. This one can be tricky, but it can sometimes be the most valuable. Find out what your customers and clients think of your online presence. Ask if they recommend their friends and family do business with you as well, based on that image.
Once you have a handle on the image you are projecting to the world, what should you do about it? If you get wall-to-wall positive feedback, then keep doing what you’re doing! But if you find that you or someone you trust believes your online image is skewing the wrong way – or that you get mixed feedback – it might be time to tweak how you manage your online communications.
Here are a few things to consider if you believe it’s time to revamp your persona:
1. Would you say this if the person was standing right in front of you? This is probably one of the quickest, and easiest ways to judge if you should post something or not. If the person you are talking to was standing right in front of you, having the conversation face-to-face, would you say the same thing? Even if you are upset, angry or passionate about a topic, the way you respond online should match what you would say in person.
2. How would you feel if someone said this to you? Even if you disagree with a point of view, if you were debating the subject in person, how would you feel if someone said to you what you are about to post online? If your response to that question is anything except “I would respectfully disagree” then you might want to reconsider.
3. If someone sent this message to someone you care about, how would you feel? Look at your message – if your son, daughter, mother, father, brother or close friend were to get this exact message, how would you respond? Would you be upset that someone would say something like this to them, or would you acknowledge that not everyone agrees, and this is one of those times, and walk away?
4. If you were to walk away and come back later, would you still post this message? In the heat of the moment, everyone can have a lapse of judgement. Especially over things we passionately believe in, it is easy to get caught up defending them. If you find yourself getting worked up, walk away – for five minutes, for ten, however long you need to take a few deep breaths – and regain your perspective.
If your message passes all four of these tests, then go ahead and post. You might not always be liked for your opinions, but you will come across as passionate about your beliefs and willing to have open, honest debate defending them – rather than an overbearing bully who tries to silence all voices not their own. Your online image will be a person others want to associate with – and do business with. You will be surprised at how much more effective your online communication becomes, and how much higher your career will soar.