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Keep it Professional Online

Originally published: 08.01.15 by Pete Grasso

Kids these days, they'll never learn. And some adults too! Seems a week doesn't go by when you see a story about someone who "overshared" or did something stupid on social media, which usually leads to them getting fired or having to make a public apology.

We've become a society of over-sharing. What was once just something we did without thought (eating dinner, for example) has become entertainment for pretty much anyone when we post pictures on Instagram or write about our experience at a restaurant on Facebook.

I doubt, before snapping that picture of an ice cream sundae, anyone has every actually asked themselves, "Does anyone really care what I'm eating for dessert?"

It's not just the pictures of food either. Consumers regularly take to social media to complain about products or service — something, unfortunately, many of you have experienced in the service industry.

Suddenly, someone's problem is everyone's issue. No longer are you only supposed to satisfy the one angry customer, but you now have to also appease the dozens (and sometimes, hundreds) more who have read, commented and vested themselves in the outcome.

Of course, as I alluded to earlier, sometimes this over-sharing backfires. Remember the Taco Bell employee who

thought it would be funny to post a picture of himself licking a stack of taco shells? Or the girl who complained about her job on Twitter and was fired — on Twitter — by her new boss who saw the post?

Perhaps you've even had to deal with an employee about their inappropriate social media post, or didn't hire someone after you Googled their name and saw their online profile.

Although not at all within the same ballpark, I'm reminded of one of my own social media faux pas from several years ago when I was an editor on a different magazine in a different industry.

Facebook was still relatively new and, reluctant to join, I did so because our magazine had been using it as a way to connect with our readers and others within the industry.

My "friends" consisted of mostly industry people, as well as a growing number of personal friends.

Occasionaly, mixed in with posts about the industry or content in the magazine, I would throw in a quote from my favorite television show, "Seinfeld."

Well, on my birthday one year, I didn't think anything of it when I posted the following quote from the classic episode "The Visa," where Jerry was trying not to be so funny:

Birthdays are merely symbolic of how another year has gone by and how little we've grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each flicker of the candles on the cake, we know it's not to be, that for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end. Inevitably, irrevocably; happy birthday? No such thing.

It just so happend that day, my publisher was out on a sales call with several colleagues from the company. When they arrived at the meeting, the marketing manager, who was a friend of mine on Facebook, asked if I was okay.

Not knowing what he was referring to, he showed them my post. My publisher read it, and also wondered if I was okay, not knowing what to say. Finally, when one of the other salesmen looked at it, he began to laugh — to the bewiderment of everyone else — and said, "It's from Seinfeld."

Obviously, it turned out fine, but I suddenly became the topic of a meeting with an important client meeting for my boss and his boss.

The lesson I learned, and have continued to relay to anyone who reads my various blog posts on the ins and outs of social media in business, is this: No matter how blurred the lines seem to be, you should always keep your online presence professional.

Sure, you can try and separate your personal life and hope the privacy settings will do the trick when it comes to keeping you out of hot water — and the key word there is hope. In the end, nothing online is truly private and the only way to keep from looking foolish is to not be foolish to begin with.

There have been so many cases of backlash from some of the boneheaded things people have posted online, you'd think people would wise up. It isn't just Big Brother who is watching — we all are.

About Pete Grasso

Pete is the editor of HVACR Business magazine. He has spent his career working in and with trade media, both as a public relations practitioner and as an editor. He gained a great deal of expertise in the B2B arena, within large and medium sized advertising agencies. Be sure to follow Pete on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn!


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