The Great Disconnect Between What You Say And What You Do

Photo: Curious Dog Credit: jamie5161

Margie Clayman

featured contributor

If I could say one thing about the year 2012, I would say it has been a year of important lessons for me, especially where the online world is concerned. When you first start out in social media, especially if it’s more for personal use versus business use, it is easy to get awed by all of the amazing things you see people blogging and tweeting and Facebooking. Statements are so inspirational and motivational. Everyone is so nice and supportive and smart!

When I first started blogging and tweeting, I fell in love with concepts like “give to get” and relationship building. Engagement seemed like the best idea in the universe, because who would not want to engage with so many amazing people? And hey, if you do someone a favor and they help you out in return, well, that sounds downright idealistic, doesn’t it?

Rose-Colored Glasses, Exit Stage Left

There is something you learn after you stick around the online world for awhile. It is a function of getting to know people better, I suppose. In a way, social media relationships are kind of like dating thousands of people at the same time. You meet, you exchange a light comment here and there, and then if there is interest you decide to get to know each other better.

What I have discovered is that many people who present themselves as engaging, relationship based, supportive, and “givers” actually cannot live up to the high standard they have set for themselves. Over the last year, I have watched people who present themselves online as shining meteors of joy and love become malicious, cruel, passive-aggressive, or just plain thoughtless. I have watched people who preach the benefits of relationships turn on those with whom they have built relationships. I have watched people who post quotes about compassion ignore real-life happenings going on around them.

It’s A Personal Problem. It’s A Brand Problem.

If you are using social media for business, these significant gaps between what you say and how you actually act can cause credibility issues for your company in addition to issues in how others may relate to you. If your business model is built around your capacity to build other people up, you had better be sure you are not leaving a train of people behind you who feel like you betrayed them or let them down. If your business model is built around how much compassion you have for the world, you need to present that, not just tweet quotes from Mother Teresa. Anyone can type quotes, right? But actually acting by reaching out to a person in pain, well, that’s a horse of a different color. If you as a business person cannot fulfill what you say with other individuals, how can you fulfill what you say with other businesses? Your credibility has been challenged. Your stability as a person has been overshadowed in doubt.

People Remember.

When you use social media, your words and actions remain visible for weeks, months, even years. As you preach compassion but fail to act compassionately, all of it gets recorded for posterity. As you preach the value of relationships while failing to treat others with kindness, it all gets stored for the future. If you think that these disconnects will not come back to haunt you, you are, unfortunately, sadly mistaken. It’s not hard to find the words you have left behind. It’s not hard to see the gap between what you say and what you do. People are watching. People will remember.

My Caution To You.

Do not send out messages just because they are likely to get retweeted or because they are likely to get you a lot of “likes” or blog traffic. If you present yourself in a certain way online, be sure you are presenting a vision of yourself that you can make real at any given moment. Make sure it is something you can adhere to with consistency and in perpetuity. Your words online are not just words. They are your handshake with everyone who sees them. Nobody likes false advertising. Present yourself as you are. Doing otherwise is simply not worth the risk.

Do you agree?


  1. says

    Amen, Margie. The challenge is that this involves a certain amount of effort and mindfulness. Along the lines of “pick your battles”, it’s important to consciously choose where you will participate and plan how you will (consistently) deliver.

  2. ginavalley says

    It is important that we conduct ourselves as decent people no matter what the media we are interacting in. I guess some people forget that there are real people on the other side of that screen. As such, it is important to be doubly sure to remember.

  3. says

    The number of people who have truly let me down in social media is small, though–and I chalk those up to filter failure on my part as much as anything. I met my beautiful wife through social. And you, too, of course. I have a pretty simple rule about these sorts of things–I don’t really let anyone in (and thus drop my guard) that I haven’t broken bread with offline. Since that’s not true for the overwhelming majority of people with whom I interact online, the chances of my really getting hornswoggled are not non-zero, but not so bad either. It’s a fine line–I don’t want to be overly trusting; nor do I want to be cynical. For me, the best I can do is reserve judgment as long as possible.

    • says

      It’s a tough dance, isn’t it? A woman I’ve known online for almost 9 years lost her mother last month. I knew all about it, had been witnessing all of my friend’s updates, but I felt it would be inappropriate for me to even ask if i should attend the funeral. Where is that line? It is covered up somewhere, and I think it takes trial and error to find it.

  4. says

    Ah Margie-my-dear. I agree with your recommendation to present yourself online as you are in real life (while sucking in my gut for the camera and looking for kinder lighting of course) and to remember that your words online are your handshake.

    You and I have have both benefitted from the relationships we have built online and have also been dinged more than once by the actions of online friends-who-were-not-such-friends.

    I try to remind myself that the web is only a reflection of our world with all that is good, bad and downright ugly. It is, however, easy to forget this…

    Here’s to a joyous month of December where we continue to witness the kindness of our fellow man (online and off) and to a 2013 filled with wonder and all good things. Hey, it’s the holidays (or about to be). I can dream. 😉

  5. says

    Brililant post, Margie. Brand dissonance, ugh. When I see a social media colleague in person for the first time, I should feel like I’ve known them for years and vice versa. If we’ve been authentic in our communication via social media, then we have known one another for a long time, just haven’t seen one another in person.

    I’m happy to report that over the years every single person I have seen in person after establishing social media business relationships have turned out to be exactly who I thought they were. That’s lucky, and that’s how social media should work.

    • says

      That’s very lucky indeed. I have heard about a lot of encounters that left people surprised – sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. There are ways that I censor myself online (I curse like a sailor in real life) but for the most part, like Popeye, I am wot I am :)

  6. says

    Insightful post. I love the quote “,,,be sure you are presenting a vision of yourself that you can make real at any given moment.”

    Although I would add …”consistently” because anyone could make it real at a given moment if they want. But to make it real and to do it consistently…that sets one apart.

  7. says

    Interesting timing for me…as I read a new-to-me Twitter feed this morning, filled of hateful, vengeful tweets about customers not paying bills (full names included), and rants on NPO salaries, going further back I found bible quotes about love & friendship, positivity, and complaints about f-bombs. Now I cannot tell what type of business person this is! Which side is the true side? Sigh.

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