Every time you add or remove a post, untag yourself, or hover a bit longer than usual over the “tweet” button, you are doing something you might not have realized is your new job: Managing your personal brand. You may love this idea, or you may hate the notion that you now have a brand to manage. But you do, and — news flash! — you always have. If you can’t swallow “brand,” then swap in the word reputation. And then try to tell me it doesn’t matter.
Of course it does. It’s also nothing new: Whenever you make a choice about how to present yourself, in what you say or don’t say, at dinner or in an email, you are doing the very same thing. Social media just ups the stakes and broadens the audience.
Every individual post might not matter, but taken together, they create a pixelated digital image of who you are. So you’re wise to give pause: Maybe the thing you were going to post was just a bit too personal or risky, or raw. Maybe you don’t want that photo of you popping up in the feed because you were: drinking a beer, in a bikini, or had those horrible bangs you loved in 1985 (thanks Throwback Thursdays!). Or maybe you went to poke fun at some stupid direct mail campaign by tweeting a picture of it, and accidentally tweeted out your personal address (that was me). Oops.
Part of the issue is that it’s just so new; we’re still prepubescent at this point in our collective social media maturation. We have a new toy and we’re obsessed with it, fooling with it, seeing what it does and can do. The difference is that you don’t tinker in private but in front of anyone and everyone. You learn in public. And sometimes you learn the hard way.
And while our social media attention span is distracted and goldfish-like in duration, once you put something out there, you really can’t take it back. You and I may suffer embarrassment on a far smaller scale, compared to, say Anthony Weiner or Amanda Bynes, but it’s still our lives, and we do take a risk every time.
It’s also easy to forget just how big your network is. I have an example that doesn’t come from social media, but from traditional media: TV. My little sister Lori was on the cast of “Real World X: Back to New York” 13 years ago, and having endured months of 24/7 taping, she tells me that it’s astonishing how quickly you forget about the cameras. It becomes hard to keep track of what you said and didn’t say. Though she swore to keep mum about her ex boyfriend and other personal stuff, within a few weeks of filming, she was letting things slip she swore she wouldn’t.
So if you can wear a mic pack and step around a camera crew daily and still forget how public public is, it’s no wonder any one of us can slip up on social media, especially when we do it from our own little corner of the world.