Social media is a great way for an executive professional to get exposure online and make a name for him or herself, but if used incorrectly, it can easily backfire with image-debasing consequences. Today’s professionals must be fully aware of social media’s dark side — and be prepared with a crisis plan to quickly put out any unwanted flames, should they appear.
Case in point: Rep. Anthony Weiner‘s recent fiasco. He started using Twitter to better connect with his constituents and share news. But not all of the information he was sharing online was appropriate… To make matters worse, not only did he share very inappropriate content, but once it was uncovered, he handled the resulting crisis very poorly. He panicked and lied to the media about it. The outcome? His image has been destroyed and his career is over.
So what can you do if you have a personal crisis – on the web? First things first: you need a crisis plan of action, the same way you would for your business.
Here are some tips to get you started:
• Be aware — To prevent a crisis, you have to be aware of what could become a crisis. Professionals must fully understand the impact of the information they share on social media and how it can influence their reputations. One misspelled word or wrong re-tweet can lead to a full-blown crisis — with your image and career on the line. Be fully aware of the potential consequences for everything you share. Before you hit send or press the Share button, ask yourself: “Is it worth it? What will people think?” Also, consider ALL possible outcomes and all audiences. What your friends think is funny may not be what your boss or clients consider amusing.
• Be prepared — It is a mistake to think that you are impervious to any harm on social media. Even if you follow all the rules, think carefully about everything you post and keep your privacy settings tight, you can’t protect yourself 100 percent. For example, you never know when a person can start to bad mouth you online. On the internet, news spreads like wildfire, so you want to be ready to contain it. If something leaks online about you, whether you posted it or not, or even whether it’s true or false, you need to be ready to address it with a plan that considers all audiences. Before a crisis hits, consider the different types of issues you may deal with and decide now how you will handle them. Is mudslinging the way to go? Probably not. But “no comment” may not work either. And don’t forget that sometimes the best solution is just to ignore it — responding may only give negative information legs on which to build credibility. You have to know your business and decide now how to handle unfortunate situations. A plan in place will help prevent you from panicking and lying to your followers or to the media.
• Learn from your mistakes — Few crises are handled right the first time, so make sure you are keeping track of all the messages you relay and the audiences you are communicating with, as well as the impact they have. How did the media respond to your response? Did criticizers on social media lighten up or did they ridicule you even more? Include what worked in your crisis plan and document what didn’t for future crises. And here’s the next big step: move on! Don’t dwell on the past or the past will continue to dwell on you. You will continue to give others reasons to talk about the situation if you keep bringing it up. Either lay low for a while or continuously communicate positive messages to your audiences. They won’t forget the past, but you can try to focus their attention elsewhere.
In the end, exposure received on social media can go either way. But more times than not, you’ll come out on top if you know what you’re getting yourself into.