Social media is the ultimate equaliser. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.”--- Amy Jo Martin, Founder and CEO of Digital Royalty
Social media has changed communication in an unprecedented way. Many of us are now hooked onto our phones and other gadgets. This dependence is not limited to the “social” platforms but includes formal platforms liked LinkedIn that connect us in an intricate web that we could not have previously imagined. The advantages of this technology are immeasurable as they now do not only connect people but powerfully drive businesses and economic growth.
What fascinates me the most though is how far social media has drawn us into sharing our private lives online. We now live in a culture where people put everything about themselves out into the world. We tell everything about our success at work, the deals we made, when we start dating, get married, etc. It is almost as if our successes are never valid until we have shared them. We seem to hanker for acknowledgement of our accomplishments by people so much that we will do anything and share things that are essentially not for public consumption. It is also interesting that this ‘sharing’ is mostly inauthentic as we only portray the squeaky-clean segments of our experience of life. We mostly post the photoshopped, ‘doctored’ versions of who we are especially on Facebook, Instagram … you know, the platforms where we show how swanky our lives are. Here, we can only be happy, exhilarated, in a relationship, engaged, married, eating great food, attending a party – that kind of stuff that shows how so good it is to be us.
Yet as we blithely share our lives, there is a sore side to this online experience. Life is full of surprises and is a complex blend of opposites – dating at times morphs into breaking up, a thriving business could take a nosedive and while you can be happily married, that too could crumble. So, what happens when life throws you the negative, not-so-happy moments? What happens when you are dealing with an unpleasant experience or scandal? Many times, this is when we tell the public – “this is a private matter”. Trouble with this is that when you consistently lay out your private life for public consumption, you inadvertently sign away your right to privacy. I watched a video with Vusi Thembekwayo giving his opinion on this. He says: “…It should have been private from the first time. Why did you tell us? We didn’t ask you - you came to us and told us.”
So, unless you are a celebrity or socialite whose income depends on how far your public reach is and every tiny detail of your private life is part of how you make a living; think twice about how far you share private details. The Kardashians, many bloggers and Youtubers make money by publicizing their lives but are you in this social category? If not, distinguish what is private and what you can share with the public. At the end of the day, it is your life – it doesn’t belong to anybody else. I like the way Vusi puts it: “If you invite people into your life, in any part of your life when things are good, recognize that they are going to be in your life even when things are not good. And life is about cycles so if I invite you into my life and I tell you about my business and all the deals I’m signing; and what clients I’m winning; now I must tell you when things are not going well. I must tell you when I am losing clients…” So, evaluate your motivation for sharing what you are sharing. Are seeking acknowledgement? Do you want to impress or is it information that the readers need to have?
This downside to social media can be quite insidious. That is how some people have lost their jobs as a result of how they used it. Yap, several incidents have shown us that you can now lose your job as a result of tweet or a post. How incredibly ironic that you trigger your termination through a seemingly innocuous act! So, if you still plan to build a career or stay in the corporate world for long, continue with me and let’s examine (and learn from) the most popular online gaffes. I once handled a case where a supervisor had raised concerns about staff member’s performance. The staff member at some point claimed she was ill and was off work for a while. In the same period, the supervisor who happened to be her friend on Facebook saw pictures of her having the time of her life on a beach in France. This post was a vital piece of information that completed the picture, leading to her termination.
Providing personal information that may be questionable or unacceptable. Many of us love posting about the fancy parties we attend and how much fun we have in our lives. But if you are giving too much detail about your personal escapades, don’t be surprised if your behaviour is questioned or leads to your termination. A former high school teacher publicly tweeted about her partying lifestyle and drug possession. The tweet included pictures in which she was scantily dressed. You can imagine where that ended.
Making statements with discriminative undertones. Following the birth of the erstwhile Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son, a radio broadcaster tweeted a black-and-white photo of a couple, with the woman holding hands with a young chimpanzee wearing a hat and a jacket. The caption read: “Royal baby leaves hospital.” A story in 2013 tells of a PR Executive who tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” before boarding her flight to South Africa for a holiday. Now, whichever way you may want to explain this, however ‘innocent’ your motivations are, it is hard to back-track on statements that are or come off as racist. Your explanations can only be interpreted as disingenuous and no responsible employer would want to be associated with such views. Both were fired. After reading those tweets the world were as believing of their explanations as much as they believed Trump when he explained away his suggestions to use UV light or disinfectant to treat corona virus as “sarcastic”.
Exhibiting questionable behaviour in public, especially when it involves other people. This may seem a bit too restrictive but think about it, unless you are just goofing around with your friends or family; your behaviour in public could be seen to be unacceptable. This is probably one of the reasons why reports on fights with nosy reporters or paparazzi are mostly about actors or singers rather than executives or royals. However irked you may be by an infuriating reporter, if you are in the “corporate world” your jab at that reporter is more likely to be frowned upon or with a harsher punishment. A sports journalist in Canada was fired after he threw a beer can that narrowly missed an outfielder during a baseball game. He did not post anything himself but was outed by someone else’s tweet.
Posting about your clients. So, you may be really riled up about that a rude client or excited about the new client you landed. Do not post information about clients. Companies at times want to keep information on new clients confidential and they sure will not tolerate you insulting their clients online.
Complaining about your job. Now this is just unwise. If you are underpaid, overworked or ill-treated, the last place you want to ‘air’ this is on social media. It is unlikely that your organisation will change their work policies to improve your situation following your public complaint. Sure, they may rethink their practices and improve them eventually, but it is highly unlikely that they will applaud your behaviour or keep you. So unless you are doing this for the future generation, you are better off negotiating your conditions internally.
Using social media at work. This is a debateable one because a lot of workers feel they have the right to check their Facebook, send a tweet or visit LinkedIn occasionally, even during working hours. However, this can get problematic if your supervisor or colleagues suspect that you are slacking off on your job or failing to deliver expected work. So, unless your organisation is clearly non-restrictive in the use of social media for personal reasons during working hours; you are better off waiting for your breaks or after work.
Bottomline, be wise about how you use social media. It is no secret anymore that some organisations do social media background checks on potential new hires. So evaluate your life and the lifestyle that suits your life plans. If your reputation, conduct and personal views could come into question at some point in your future, which is very likely for people in the corporate or political world; then tread responsibly. The point is not to gag you into silence or cramp your style but to ensure that you can stand up for what you put out there. On the other hand, it could be that your behaviour and views would not really matter and have no implication for your livelihood. Know yourself, be mindful and choose wisely before you get Trumpish with your tweets.
This piece was inspired by a Facebook video by Vusi Thembekwayo https://www.facebook.com/VusiThembekwayoPage/videos/2897460583648618/ and references stories from articles on https://careers.workopolis.com/advice/6-people-who-were-fired-for-social-media-posts/ and https://www.themuse.com/advice/yes-you-can-get-fired-for-your-social-media-posts-9-times-people-learned-this-lesson-the-hard-way