As students are preparing to apply and introduce themselves to colleges across the country, it is worth reminding them that social media can cause the best of times or the worst of times. Just ask Justine Sacco and Aaron Durand.
Let’s start with the worst of times.
As Justine Sacco was journeying from New York to South Africa, she sent out a tweet that would cause her reputation to become—in her own words—”a brutal nadir.” For the sake of sensitivity, I will let you decide if you want to find the exact tweet through a quick Google search. But in essence, it was a culturally and racially insensitive few lines that offended many people. Before she even landed in South Africa, her tweet had spread far beyond her 170 Twitter followers to people enraged by her words all over the globe. The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet went viral and news outlets were covering her arrival at the airport. As told in a New York Times exposé about Sacco, this single tweet caused Sacco to lose her job, get thrown into a depression, and become both a family and public embarrassment.
Due to the scale of public outcry and media coverage, Sacco’s tweet has become the cautionary tale when it comes to personal social media management. But hers isn’t the only horror story. Far from it. With just a little research, you’ll find dozens of ways that poorly timed tweets, Instagram photos, and Facebook updates—despite supposedly innocent intents—have cost people their jobs and reputations. Just this past year, Harvard University rescinded the acceptance of ten students due to inappropriate behavior on Facebook (even though the posts were in a supposedly “private” group). It is no wonder that schools throughout the country require their students to attend lectures that reveal similarly harrowing stories of people misusing social media outlets. We want people to be smart with their social media. We want to be protected.
But that is only one side of this tale. Let’s talk about the best of times.
The future of the independent bookstore Aaron Durand’s mother owned did not look good. From his twitter profile @everydaydude he sent out a tweet (accompanied with a blogpost) to change that fate. It read: “if you’re in Portland do me a favor??? Buy a book at Broadway Books. No wait, buy 3 of em. I’ll buy you a burrito the next time I’m in town.” The bookstore started “literally running out of books to sell” and enjoyed “the best holiday season we ever had.” The story was so inspiring, that Twitter made a video of the story to showcase the positive power a single tweet can have. Durand’s tweet helped save the family bookstore.
Just like Sacco’s unfortunate story, Durand’s is a dime a dozen. Social media can be a powerful force for good when thrown behind the right causes. Each social media platform can point to thousands of times it helped in small and big ways, from returning lost pets to their owners to promoting the famous ice bucket challenge that raised over $100 million for ALS research.
So, even though this really is not anything new or exciting, here’s just a list of quick tips to remind you how to encourage the best of times (and keep away the worst of times) via social media:
Broadcast your best self: Social media is not a private journal; it is a public platform that people can view, both now and in the future. This includes the colleges or jobs you may be applying to. Worst/best of all, social media accounts often keep track of everything you have ever posted. A good rule of thumb: if you are going to be happy and proud to revisit this memory in twenty years, post it. If not, hit delete.
Use the platform for its intended purpose: It is typically best practice to keep your private, social, and work life separate on the web. Promoting a school club or a business through your personal Facebook account can be effective in small doses, but you could alienate your friends and confuse your customers/clients if you have only one page for everything. Don’t post an update about your sick new BBQ baster brush on your professional LinkedIn page; don’t send out cute baby pics on your professional email account; and don’t post weird memes on your professional art portfolio page.
Take advantage of the tools provided: All of the platforms have cool ways to take advantage of their software, such as scheduling your content to post in the future or being able to see who is viewing your profile. Some of these add-ons cost money, but many are free and super useful.
Create a strong password: Don’t get hacked. If it can happen to companies like Equifax it can happen to you. Take the care and time to create a secure password and, in the words of Gandalf, “Keep it secret; keep it safe.”
Use your privacy settings: Almost every social media platform allows you to block people outside of your social circle from seeing what you post. Use those settings to make sure your content only shows up on the newsfeeds of people you trust.
Post with caution and do not depend on your privacy settings: Your privacy settings can only do so much. Even if you do not intend to share a tweet with the world, your words can be retweeted or screenshotted to be posted elsewhere. Again, just think about the ten students whose offers were rescinded from Harvard. If it is on the internet anywhere, it has the ability to be on the internet everywhere.
Keep your social media platform up-to-date and active: This is more important for platforms on which you are promoting yourself or something you represent. For example, your LinkedIn page should be up-to-date so possible future employers can easily see your current résumé and all of your attributes. If you are promoting something else, an active social media page can attract more attention to your cause.