Let me tell you about Horrible PR, “twitter stupid” and the latest headache for both the University of Maryland and Delta Gamma. “For those of you that have your heads stuck under rocks,” both are dealing with a viral email crisis (think: WWE meets Clueless meets Mean Girls) after a sorority leader penned a potty mouthed email to all chapter members chastising them for being “f****** boring and awkward” and (horrors!) misrepresenting the sorority (“HORRIBLE, I repeat, HORRIBLE PR!”) at critical social events with their fraternity match up. The nastygram went completely viral within the last 24 hours, popping up everywhere from Gawker to the Huffington Post and traditional news outlets. The author was termed “twitter stupid” once her handle was publicized (then the account cancelled) for representing the very worst of online communications with dim, racist, crass commentary on her daily interactions.
There is a growing generation gap among social media users (and abusers, perhaps, in this case). As my colleague discussed yesterday, there are fundamental rules of engagement for virtual relationships in social media that many established professionals can learn from. And, likewise, there are some pretty basic rules from the “real life” camp worth refreshing as we lean on technology for our primary communications.
Think of who you represent.
No, I’m not just talking about your sisters. As a professional, employee, student, family member, or athlete, you have a built-in audience of people watching and listening. Sure, they’re hanging on your every word, but not necessarily for the reason you think. Be mindful of your future and theirs. As it’s been said, a bad tweet is no different than a bad spring break tattoo – forever and eventually ugly. Taking something back is far more difficult than biting your tongue.
Be social but know when to be traditional.
The message, “stop embarrassing the rest of us in public” could have been delivered as effectively in person verbally without a name-tarnishing, internship-stomping paper/hyperlink trail, though I will concede that the author’s penchant for expletives perhaps rendered the message more effective for her particular audience.
Timing is everything.
Before hitting “send” consider the implications and the potential aftermath of your message and your chosen form of delivery. Sleep on it if you can. Or at the very least share it with someone else (preferably not while under the influence of sorority anxiety disorder, seething anger, alcohol or stress) to get a second read.
If this message is your end-all crusade for your employees, colleagues, clients or sorority sisters, put your name on it and be prepared to defend it. Hoping for anonymity in a virtual world where histories are documented on everything from Facebook to Zabasearch to page visits and old family photos on someone else’s page, is naïve and cowardly. Be prepared to face the music when you take private conversations so very public.
There is something sacred (and safe) about leaving some things unsaid or unseen. Even more, content posted online is subject to the legal and law enforcement processes.
Finally, as mom always said, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all – or email it, tweet it, text it or leave it lying around in a public forum with your name or Twitter handle attached to it.
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