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.
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?