Loose talk may no longer cost lives – but it could cost your reputation

We’ve all had that feeling. The sinking feeling that comes from wondering if somebody’s googling us, and what they’re likely to find. Did we post something embarrassing at 3am on Facebook? Did we remember to tighten up our security? Did we even read the last email that Facebook sent out with its interminable privacy settings? Did we really understand it? And Twitter? Is there anything embarrassing in the ether that might compromise our career prospects, our chances of closing the deal or winning the contract? In the last six months alone, I’ve heard a number of horror stories from friends and clients:
  • A woman who called in sick, but continued tweeting all day long about shopping, TV programmes she was watching and what her plans were for the evening.
  • A senior manager who dropped out and did his own thing, wrote several devastating posts on his blog about the corporate world, and even gave an interview to a lifestyle website about how destructive full-time employment was. Subsequently, he had a change of heart, and decided he wanted to rejoin the world of work. It was then that he discovered the term ‘Google CV’ – the one that’s more revealing than your carefully managed version.
  • A corporate tweeter who got involved in a slanging match with a fan of the competition. It became more and more heated, and he ended up saying things that damaged the image of his company – and his job prospects. On reflection, and trawling through the tweets, he realised that the ‘fan’ was in all probability a plant by the competition – a sponsored troll, as it were.
There’s never been as much chatter out there – or as much danger of damaging your image. It’s something that political parties have learned to their cost. If you’ve ever watched the BBC’s The Thick of it, you’ll have laughed at chaos caused by 24-hour news management in the always-on world of the Westminster village. But it’s not just politicians. Companies too have to make sure they’re coordinated on all fronts. They need to manage the message across every conduit, and often, that’s not easy.

Act in haste

Publishing online has never been simpler. A client of mine that helps organisations manage and monitor website standards quotes a wonderful phrase when it comes to publishing content: ’empowering the irresponsible’. It’s not so much a criticism as an observation on how easy it is for somebody – anybody – to put ‘stuff’ out there. That stuff can be off-brand, off-colour and off-message. And that can be devastating to a company brand – which can easily account for 50% or more of a company’s market capitalisation. So what do you do – indeed, what can you do – to control the message in an always-on, 24×7, 360-degree world? Well, you can start with the basics: ensuring that you say the same thing, in the same tone of voice, through all channels.
  • If you’re tweeting, remember that the world is watching. Twitter is great for getting the message out and building a community, but what you say needs to maintain the same standards as everything else you communicate. Somebody once told me they treat every tweet as if it were a press release. That certainly focuses the mind.
  • Make sure all your people are on the same page; and if that page is Facebook, make sure they know about it. Just recently, I spoke to somebody who told me that their support people had no idea they even had a corporate Facebook page, or what they were saying on it.
  • Make your default mode corporate. By that, I don’t mean that you should fall back on the dreaded business-speak. Just remember that corporate Facebooking, tweeting and blogging are not the same as the personal equivalents. It’s the difference between a business dinner at a staid restaurant, and a raucous meal at your local pizzeria. It’s all about context.
  • If you’re tweeting, posting and blogging, make sure to keep an eye out for developing situations. Monitoring things regularly is the best way of heading trouble off at the pass.
And lastly, if in doubt, leave it out. ‘Think twice, post once’, a friend said to me recently. He said it’s saved him from innumerable spats on social media. By taking the time to think of an appropriate, measured response, he’s managed to maintain the moral high ground, and keep his company’s reputation intact. Managing the message is often more about what you don’t say than what you do. Silence rarely gets you into trouble. Which is a good note to end on.