How public are your posts?

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

We all know how easy it is to rush off an email in the heat of the moment, only to regret what we said as it disappears off into the internet. In times gone by, there was at least the opportunity to have second thoughts and fish the letter out of the mail room before it went.

Now, of course, we have even more ways we can instantly can put our ‘foot in it’ through social media.

One of my clients is the operator of an international online job board and – in the course of producing their social media content – I keep coming across articles and news stories reminding job candidates that employers will check their Facebook and Twitter posts.

social media privacy

If this check brings up wall-to-wall snapshots and anecdotes from drunken nights out, that may well ring alarm bells with a recruiter.

As we have seen with high profile cases like the Lord McAlpine libel cases, it is not just job candidates who can land in hot water. Sally Bercow had to settle out of court over her infamous “innocent face” tweet.

And it is not just high-profile public figures who get hauled up for their online comments. Much closer to home a pensioner here in the North East was fined £300 for racist comments after branding Travellers as “scum” in an online post.

Remember, too, that journalists and news media not only use Twitter and other social media to promote their news media. They also trawl social media in search of stories.

Clearly that can be a very good thing if they come across something that you want to share with a wider audience. But, it’s not so good if it is something you didn’t think too carefully about before you posted it!

The privacy of what you say on social media was tested a couple of years ago by a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. The complainant was a civil servant who had posted comments with her feelings about her job.

She had included the disclaimer that the views were her own and not representative of her employer. In her opinion, she believed her posts were private and were published only to her 700 followers.

IoD Scotland Magazine
A version of this blog appears in the Autumn 2013 edition of the IoD Scotland magazine

The Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday argued that her Twitter account was not private and the posts could be read by anyone. The commission concluded that the newspapers’ action did not constitute ‘an unjustifiable intrusion’ into the complainant’s privacy.

You can, of course, change the privacy settings on your account. For example, on Facebook you should choose carefully who will be able to see your posts and pictures. On Twitter you can protect your tweets so that only those who you approve to follow you, will be able to see your posts.

But, for many of us, restricting access to Twitter posts rather defeats the object of getting our message out to as many people as possible.

Social media channels – particularly Facebook company pages and Twitter feeds – are very powerful means of communicating with clients and customers and building their loyalty. They can even prove to be useful sales channels, as Dell proved in the early days of Twitter, when they claimed the new medium had earned them $6.5 billion in sales.

But, as with the hasty email, the bottom line has to be to stop and think before hitting “send”. Whether you are a job applicant or a business leader, don’t publish anything on a public social media channel that you wouldn’t happily say in public.

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