How to Maintain Professionalism on Social Media

From the Desk of Benjamin Bahleda, Design Services Manager

Social media is an incredible tool for every business, church, and individual looking to interact with their customers, clients, congregants, and colleagues. Just a click away you can find numerous stories of those who have turned a sleek social media profile into transformational success.

However, there are also numerous stories—perhaps more numerous—of those who failed to maintain a professional presence online, and for whom the resulting fallout was exceedingly damaging.
Since our modern market and society require almost everyone to have some semblance of social media representation, the need to engage while remaining professional is crucial. The world expects companies and individuals to openly exhibit their lives and thoughts to the internet nowadays, commenting on everything in the news and even on the most mundane of subjects, such as what was had for dinner.

Opening up while remaining on guard is a difficult balance to maintain, but there are a few key tips to keep in mind that can help you avoid the perils of the faux-pas while continuing to provide an engaging space in the social media landscape.

1. Avoid Politics (unless that’s your thing)

Being an election year, it is difficult to avoid talking politics. While you probably have an opinion—and on some days, you probably want to voice it—the first key tip is to stifle this urge. Given the powerful platform social media represents, you may be tempted to share a photo or an article you feel really puts things in perspective, but remember that your audience isn’t following you to be converted to your opinions (at least not about the race for president). Your audience wants to know about your organization’s activities.

Statistically, no matter which side you come down on, you are in a position to alienate half of your base of support. Even in industries that heavily favor one political party or the other—or in tight-knit churches with deeply shared values—a significant portion of your audience still likely doesn’t reciprocate your stances and might hold your publicized opinions against you.

Politics is a no-win game in social media, unless your whole game is about politics. If your organization is built on political opinion, then ignore everything written above and cheerfully wage your wars against the enemy in red or blue. But, if that’s not the case, or if you are unsure, keep your political feelings private. A few might appreciate your posts, but the vast majority are likely to be turned off by it.

2. Avoid arguments

If your interest in confrontation extends beyond politics, take great care to stifle this urge as well. Social media—and the internet in general—is rife with antagonism. You and your organization are certain to get negative comments, some of them quite nasty, but responding rarely leads to positive outcomes.

Don’t waste your energy working on a perfect defense of yourself, and especially don’t put that energy into taking your critic down a peg or two. Such responses can easily lead to allegations of disrespect and bullying, which places you in the position of suddenly being the bad guy.

The best approach is to ignore the criticism, but if you must respond, do so in a conciliatory, fact-based manner, making sure to note the person’s chief complaints and your effort to improve on those issues. Be sure to do so in a respectful manner, as this is what people will use to judge your character. Just remember that sometimes, negative comments are posted just for negativity’s sake.
If there are points at which you cannot approach agreement, it is best to leave them be or else explain calmly the reasons why. Being respectful of the other individual is imperative, regardless of how they may be acting.

Encouraging a social media environment that is civil and respectful can have a powerful effect on not only your own posts but also on those made by your surrounding community, so that negativity and argument can be quashed before it even reaches you.

Regarding issues that tend to be as controversial as politics above, it is always best not to start the debate and to respond as little as possible. Don’t focus on trivial differences and keep any sports or community-based championing playful and civil. While discussion of controversial topics can be fruitful in private, trying to litigate a point in 140 characters usually only leads to greater misunderstanding.

3. Always remember the world is watching

The above two rules might more roundly be categorized under this third point: remember the world is watching you, and what goes online stays online. While the social media environment requires us to respond quickly and constantly to things, we still have to be careful to be on our best behavior. Before pressing enter, imagine your response on Twitter or Facebook as if it were spoken in a crowded room full of your peers, your family, your employer, and a large number of strangers with their phones recording your every word. Would you wish for all these people to hear such comments coming from you? Would you be comfortable with such comments being recorded and always available to be brought up again? Even years into the future, your comments and postings will be available for anyone to see, so be wary of what you say online.

That being said, don’t let this image keep you from posting at all. While what you say will always be there, most of those who follow you are sure to already be predisposed to see you positively. As long as you keep the permanency and publicity of your remarks in mind—and avoid the pitfalls of controversial topics—you can use social media for all its positive aspects without fear of the negative hazards others fall into.

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