When I attended the U.S. Defense Information School (DINFOS) in the mid-90s, before the proliferation of social media, our instructors were quick to point out PR Rule #1 to us newly ordained military public affairs officers: “Don’t say anything you don’t want running on the front page of the New York Times!”
Now that seems basic, but the point was more comprehensive than that. Chances are, they said, you’ll be at some party with your spouse or long-time college buddies who will ask you questions that are “just between us.” You think that you’re safe to spout out opinions and issues that are solely your own. The next thing you know, your comments are relayed to friends of friends; some of whom happen to have the ear of reporters. Within days, your comments are running in prominent news organizations with the headline “Navy Spokesperson Disagrees With DoD Policies.”
Public Relations in a Social Media World
Now put that hypothetical scenario in context with today’s social media landscape. Only this time, your Facebook page says something that would appear to contradict your professional brand on sites like LinkedIn. Maybe someone posted pictures and videos of you out with those same old college buddies trying to relive your frat days. It could be an inflammatory comment you made late at night about current events or a particular politician. Maybe you slammed a celebrity for their most recent Super Bowl performance. “Who cares,” you propose. It’s on my Facebook page, which is supposed to be personal.
The fact, though, is that you have only one online persona, and it’s comprised of your postings on all online platforms. It’s just as easy for a person to look up your Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter accounts as it is your LinkedIn one. Setting privacy settings on certain social media accounts isn’t foolproof, either, so don’t rely on them to keep your “alternative ego” secluded.
A good rule of thumb is to not “let loose” on social media — any social media — in the first place. Avoid posting comments, pictures and video clips of that “guys weekend” or “girls night out” that can give individuals the misperception of your personality. Utilize the same approach as I was told back in the 1990s by my DINFOS instructors:
If you don’t want your social media comments to be seen on a news organization’s home page or printed front page, don’t post it.
All this is not to say that you can’t show your “human” side. The opposite is true. People will always buy from folks that they know, like and trust. So be sure to highlight the things that matter to you as an individual. You can post about your recent vacation, kids accomplishments, volunteer efforts and favorite watering holes. Just be sure to be positive, respectful, age-appropriate and consistent with your true core values.