Friday, May 28, 2010

The Tweet Not Taken

Sometimes What You Don’t Say Sends the Most Powerful Message

At an awards show last fall, the world went wild when a well-known rap star grabbed the microphone from America’s country-music sweetheart and went on a rant during her acceptance speech. People posted hundreds of thousands of messages on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, expressing their outrage. In the process, they of course mentioned the rapper’s name, thereby raising his profile on the Web – and playing right into his ham-handed publicity ploy.

Not me. I practice the fine art of Twunning – the modern-day, social-media equivalent of shunning.

In our searchable, SEO-ed, social-media-dominated world, sometimes the best way to “send a message” is not to send a message at all. Don’t reward marginal or anti-social behavior with a Tweet or a post. Instead, punish it with inattention.

True, there are plenty of examples where the power of social media has helped focus attention on important social problems or injustices. And I think we will see more of this good work in the future. But the Rapacious Rapper doesn’t fall into this category.

The urge to share and be heard is apparently winning out over common sense – even for seasoned professionals and other adults. Beyond bestowing attention on Rapacious Rappers, I see people saying things on social media that they would never say in person. Their comments are instantly broadcast to the world. They are also instantly searchable, stored forever, and permanently associated with the commenters’ names (and reputations).

Many people are frustrated with Facebook’s continually evolving privacy policies for its free service. But you shouldn’t count on Facebook – or Twitter or any other business – to protect you.

How about starting to take responsibility for yourself, by just saying [ ]?

Before you post that Facebook message or make that Tweet, THINK. Is it really worth it?

Do you really want to broadcast your location, or the fact that you will be away from home on vacation for the next two weeks? Or show a photo of your expensive new car? (Ever searched for your own home on National Geographic's Map Machine?)

Do you really want people to know that you had a very successful business meeting with a prospect – mentioning that prospect by name?

Do you really want to argue with a sibling in public, on Facebook?

I have seen all of the above – and worse – over the last few weeks on social media.

Privacy settings will continue to be a moving target, even as the open web evolves into more services that offer privacy for a price. So-called “walled gardens” can only be so effective. (I also suspect that private services may become targets for hackers because of the greater perceived value of the information within.)

So, whether you are consciously and strategically building a personal brand or not, best to think before you Tweet.

And sometimes it’s better to just say [ ].

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