There’s been quite the hoo-ha on social media over the past few days over what is and is not acceptable behaviour on social media, in the workplace or just in society at large.
In case you missed it, Charlotte Proudman publicly shamed a connection on LinkedIn after he sent her a private message complimenting her on her “stunning” profile photo. Cue outrage, mud-slinging, muck-racking and all sorts of other filthy metaphors on both sides. It’s no real secret that I’m a paid up member of the “Feminazi” and my uniform lies (unironed) in the wardrobe ready for action at a moment’s notice, so have discussed these at length.
However, there are more general lessons to be learnt here about how to behave on social media. We spend our lives judging situations, behaving appropriately and adjusting our actions as we see fit. Social Media is no different. There is a time and place for everything, just as there is in the real world.
Here’s the “cut out and keep guide” to appropriate behaviour and the lessons we can learn.
- Facebook is your office party. Whether you have a job or not, a business Facebook page or not, it’s helpful to consider it in this way. You can laugh, you can joke, you can be charming. You can talk about football, Game of Thrones or where you got those shoes. You can even have a few drinks. But bear in mind that someone is always watching and could potentially come back and bite you on the arse.
- Twitter is your open plan office. I think a bit more work goes on on Twitter. In between there is banter, there is chatting about what’s going on, there are asides to people but everything is out in the open and you can be ALWAYS overheard.
- LinkedIn is your management meeting or job interview. So very different rules apply. If you wouldn’t say it in front of your board, or in a job interview, then don’t say it. Certainly don’t use it to crack onto strangers. (Maybe you would say such things in a meeting too, in which case drag yourself to HR immediately and get some help). Keep it professional. That doesn’t mean you can’t show personality, opinions or charm but in a way that shows you are someone people want to do business with, not the office clown (or sleaze).
- You don’t know people. The strange thing about social media is that very often you are talking to people you don’t know. Therefore it’s important to make qualified judgements about what is and is not acceptable to a stranger (even if you have watched the same TV programme or attended the same event). What I find most baffling about Alexander Carter-Silk is that he, an intelligent man, read ‘researching the legal and policy approaches designed to combat female genital mutilation’ and ‘strong background in working with vulnerable women seeking legal support’ and thought “I know, I’ll tell her she’s pretty, she’ll love that” I’ve unfollowed a couple of people whose sense of humour I don’t share and winced at a few over-familiar comments.
- Be careful who your friends are. It’s my policy not to be friends on Facebook with business associates or contacts. Whilst I have nothing really to hide, Facebook is where I can be off duty and, more importantly, I can rely on the fact that my friends know me well and understand the subtext of my posts. Context is everything. The papers have been dragging up Charlotte Proudman’s comments about various men on Facebook. However context is everything. We don’t know the relationship she had with those people, the running jokes or any of the background. It’s very difficult to get across sarcasm when you can’t see a person’s face. It’s all too easy to make assumptions that the other person may not share.
- Manners cost nothing. There’s some nasty people out there and I come across all sorts of people across the client accounts I manage. Everyone feels they’re entitled to an opinion (which they are) and that everybody else needs to hear it (which they don’t). Also, the person you’re talking about can usually hear it too, even if you didn’t meant them to. There’s heated debate and a difference of opinion and then there’s abuse. Don’t confuse the two. Ever.
- Be yourself. Actually you have no other choice. Both Proudman and Carter-Silk behaved in a very instinctive way. They couldn’t help themselves. Actually I think “human rights lawyer brushes of message as one of those things” would be equally as headline worthy. You can try to be someone else but the mask will always slip so best be as authentic as you can. The downside of this is, if you’re an archaic fool the rest of the world will soon find out.
- You have no control. I suspect neither of them thought it would end up on the front page of a national newspaper. However it did and there was little that could be done to stop it. I read Jon Ronson’s book on public shaming over the holidays and is a fascinating and cautionary tale. Be careful out there.
- This just confirms what I’ve always said about the importance of good profile photos.
Social Media is a new playground/battleground that we all need to master and it’s no longer enough to plead ignorance or misunderstanding.
Forewarned is forearmed.