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March 25, 2009
If It’s Online, It’s In the Public Eye
By coincidence, my first Very Public Relations column is about a very public incident that happened recently in Toledo, Ohio (where I live). Maybe you heard the flap recently in Toledo about some “private” blog comments from the mayor’s spokesperson.
The gist of the story is that, on a MySpace blog set to private (meaning only his friends could view it), the mayor’s spokesperson wrote some unflattering commentary about his boss – and those comments got out. The operator of a Toledo discussion board posted them, and the story took on a life of its own as several local traditional media outlets covered the story.
While the spokesperson is still performing his duties as of late last week, I’m sure he’s felt a lot of heat from the incident.
That incident is just the latest example of supposedly media-savvy people using poor judgment about their online activities.
Remember this:
If it is online – text, pictures, video, audio, etc. -- it is public, or it will be soon. If you don’t want the world to know, keep it to yourself.
For some time, I’ve been a firm believer that self-censorship is a very under-appreciated, personal quality. Just because social media technologies allow you to easily voice your $0.02 and vent, it doesn’t mean you should.
Social media is all about things like authenticity, transparency and more avenues to connect with others. However, if you are in public relations or other professional communications role, you need to consider how your online activities reflect not only on you, but on your employer and/or clients, too.
More so than any other vehicle, social media more can result in the convergence of our professional and personal lives. Ultimately, it’s up to you to control that convergence, but as more people get online, more of your real friends, family, old classmates, co-workers and even clients will want to join your network.
For me, while I am on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and maintain a blog – all for professional reasons, my personal life has crept into those areas. For example, on Facebook, my “friends” include those I attended grade and high school with, college, three of the five real jobs I’ve had (excluding jobs before college graduation), professional online colleagues, and those who’ve I have or am doing freelance or consulting work for.
Talk about convergence!
So, I tend to be careful about what I say online. Like you, I have my solid opinions and am not afraid to voice them, but I don’t have to voice them all – especially if there’s strong potential to damage me, my career, a client or if an opinion does not contribute to the various online communities to which I belong.
Here are some tips and considerations to have in mind before you click on Enter, Send, Post, Comment or other communications button:
  • Remember that, no matter how you have your privacy settings in a social network, or if your boss is not online, whatever you publish online is there for public consumption.
  • Could what you publish result in your employer or a client being viewed in a negative light?
  • Before you publish, be sure you really mean what you typed or said. Typed communication can be misconstrued much easier than verbalizing the same thoughts. A thorough self-proof can be sure your message is accurately communicated.
  • If you must rant, open a Word file on your home computer and do it there. Or, rant and complain in an email and send it to yourself. You’ll still let off steam while keeping your emotions truly private.
  • If you do publish a strong, possibly controversial opinion, be sure you are firm in your convictions. Believe what you type and accept any consequences (and accolades).
I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t have strong opinions or emotions, or even controversial ones. What I am saying is be aware of the possible consequences and don’t let emotion ruin your judgment – and possibly your career.
Remember, like Las Vegas, if it happens online, it stays online – for all to see.

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Michael  Driehorst, president and founder of Diamond Communications, is a proven public relations professional who knows how to develop the right set of strategies and matching tactics to achieve communication objectives for the right target audience. After an early career as a newspaper journalist, Mike has worked in public relations and marketing communications since 1994. He has been active in social media marketing since 2005; read his blog.

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