June 2017

By Ruth Atherley

I have a diverse group of “friends” on Facebook. Some are family, some close friends, and some I have met through work or even through online groups and courses. They don’t see the world from the same perspective or through the same lens – at all. It can be very interesting to watch the differing opinions come out when something serious is going on in the world.

I think that stepping out of my own biases is important. I work hard to understand why people feel the way they do about a topic – and it’s not always easy to do when it appears that their values sit opposite to mine. I might not agree, but I do try to dig in and appreciate where they are coming from. As a global citizen and as a communications professional, I believe it is my obligation to put my personal lens aside so that I can better understand what their motivating factors are, especially for some of the more extreme opinions. It’s not comfortable or easy. (And I admit, there are quite a few ideologies that have recently become emboldened that I will never understand – and that I publicly push back against. But that is a blog post for another time.)

Often, a situation will arise or an incident will happen that has people commenting online – including on my Facebook page, which I take as a little microcosm of the world. And it is surprising how people can interpret what happened differently – usually in a way that supports their own belief system or narrative.

Even something as innocent as a little Facebook meme reminds me of how important it is to take the time to understand how your target market or audience sees the world and will view the information you want to share with them.

The other day, the image we have shared in this post was making the rounds on Facebook. It seemed like a pretty harmless little meme. Within a few days, two individuals on my Facebook page had shared it. Their description of it and the comments that were added by their Facebook friends were very different.

One person’s opinion was that when something happens on Facebook and people send “positive energy” and “love,” it is a useless, empty act that means nothing. Each of the comments on this person’s post agreed with him. It took on quite a mocking tone about how sending “positive energy” helps no one who has just experienced a terrorist attack, the loss of a loved one, or is having a difficult time.

Another Facebook friend shared the same meme – and said that this is exactly what is in her mind when she sees someone sending “positive energy” – that they are letting you know they are thinking about you and that they care. And the comments on her post supported that opinion.

As a communications professional, it is up to me to make sure that when a client is planning some type of announcement, campaign or initiative, we are all fully aware of what the response might be. And – even what might, to some, seem like a positive event or project could receive a critical response from others. You can’t make assumptions that everyone is on the same page or that they will see this (or anything) from the same perspective.

We have to be hyper-aware of any potentially negative or critical response and help our client to: a) understand why there might be this type of response; and b) to get ahead of it and be prepared. It doesn’t mean that we can make it go away, but perhaps there is a way to acknowledge and address the criticism(s) during the planning stage.

We all have biases and we see the world through our own experiences and belief systems. As communicators, we need to step into this and take the time to understand what that really means for our clients.

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By Ruth Atherley

Social media can ruin your future. It’s that simple. Social media puts your reputation at risk when you post something inappropriate, illegal, immoral, unethical or just plain nasty. A perfect example of this is a small group of Harvard University accepted students – who engaged in a private Facebook chat where they shared sexually explicit memes and messages that also targeted minority groups. They aren’t going to Harvard now. Their admission has been rescinded, according to the Ivy League school. Their futures aren’t so bright now.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened and it won’t be the last. Heck, there are people who were stars in the world of PR and social media who have been taken down because they posted something unacceptable – often thinking they were being funny.

One of the elements of social media that I appreciate – in both my personal and professional life – is how it allows you to see someone for who they truly are. Years ago, before social media (remember that?), people could show one face publicly and be someone else entirely behind closed doors. Not anymore. Social media has erased that boundary – and I think that is a great thing. You see, even if people are trying to showcase themselves in a particular way, if it isn’t authentic to who they really are – at some point – they will slip up, let their guard down, respond to something… and they will get caught. And many of those people should be unmasked for who and what they really are. If there is a theme of ugly beliefs or behaviours that surface, then they deserve what they get.

What about the person who makes a genuine mistake or the one who behaves poorly but learns from it? Social media is unforgiving – what you comment on or post lives on forever. Even when you take it down, it’s likely someone has a copy or screenshot of it. Social media never forgets.

When we work with clients on social media, we tell them that whatever they post on social media should be done with thought, respect and consideration. It’s perfectly reasonable to enter a discussion, dialogue or debate to disagree. But imagine if what you wrote was run across a jumbotron screen or published on the front page of a national newspaper – would you be proud or ashamed? Not just of what you said, but also how you said it and how you engaged with others. Sometimes, we need to be the “grown-up” if a conversation turns nasty or aggressive – to respectfully stand up for what is right or, if appropriate, to disengage.

This isn’t just professional advice; it’s personal advice too. Be careful out there. Your reputation is at risk.

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