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Social media 101: if you’re an idiot, Twitter is not your friend

March 26, 2013

Last week, I sat around a large and imposing boardroom table, slightly in awe of the board members seated around it. And then someone asked me to ‘just explain exactly what Twitter is’, and I immediately felt a little less awed.

I was presenting to the board of a company about the wonders of social media.  As you’d expect, they were wary about its value for marketing and communication, given the risks it presents.

Fair enough – there is plenty to worry the old guard: aside from the lack of control, there are the nutjobs and trolls that haunt the interwebs at every turn, causing all sorts of trouble. I can see why the average corporate leader has his or her doubts.

One of their biggest concerns, however, is encapsulated by this question:  ‘But what if someone were to tweet some market-sensitive information that breaches disclosure laws?’ (For those unacquainted with Australian stock exchange laws, you have to keep everyone updated on any price sensitive info at the same time – you can’t just tell your mates).

The response in my head was along the lines of ‘well, if your own people can’t work out when to share price sensitive info, you should show them the door now’.

My response out loud was more along the lines that ‘it doesn’t matter whether it’s new-school Twitter or old-school email – you have to rely on people’s good sense and professionalism’. If they have neither, they will screw up sooner or later. The thing is, with Twitter, it’s probably sooner rather than later.

Which brings me to this star. A grown-up executive recruiter got drunk and wrote an abusive message to a celebrity. Not huge news on its own. But unfortunately for Joe Waddington, his past tweets built out the story. Turns out he was not a dickhead on Twitter just once, but very often. Which can only leave us to conclude that he is a dickhead, full stop. His tweets are rude, disrespectful and misogynist. It’s hard to think he is any different in the flesh.

So my point is this: social media is dangerous, but only in the way matches are dangerous. Used properly, matches light candles and fireplaces. Used with bad intentions, they start bushfires.

Similarly, if you act like a decent human being and show a little sense when online, you will be ok. Yeah, you may have some awkward moments or misinterpreted comments, but that happens in real life too.

However,  if you are thoughtless, rude, stupid or hateful, then people eventually find out – social media is just a newer and faster way to make that happen.

To sum up, I will quote a good friend of mine, David Leahy, whose advice on life and career boils down to one thing: don’t be a dickhead.


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