Online is forever.
It's easy to forget in a sea of photos, memes, listicles, longreads, shorter reads. We are shouting into an abyss--endless streams of 140 characters, reblogged columns, tumblr posts that spiral out into discussions and arguments, forums for hate, fodder, denouncement, and more. But the abyss takes note.
With all of this content and constant noise, it's easy to forget that anything written online can and will be found for the foreseeable future. And this can hurt your career, your relationships, and whomever you decide to be. We need a reminder of that.
Maybe we've all forgotten. I had too--until a friend was in hot water. But we all need a solid, steady reminder. Anything we choose to upload, tweet, reblog, favorite, "like", is going into an endless record. One that will be very, very hard to erase.
I work to empower leadership through public relations tactics at my company, FinePoint. What personal brand, a solid profile, thought leadership, and strategic thinking can do for your career or company as a founder or CEO. But what I don't discuss as often is the this: with the touch of a button--you can take down your career, you can take down your boss, you can ruin a relationship--romantic or otherwise. And these things won't go away.
One of the things I tell my clients every single day--it's a lot easier to control the conversation than it is to change it. But in the world of online--it's ten times harder. It's not a speech that will go away after you deliver it--it's one that could be transcribed, uploaded, quoted--for however long the public wants. It'll pop up in search results for a decade, if not far, far longer than that.
Here are some tips for thinking before you post, because you are inextricably linked to the content you create on the web.
What does this mean for my career, now and in the future?
Everything that comes out of your brain and onto the web from you has your name on it. That's it--it's your name, and your personal brand on the line, and your career. Just look at Justine Sacco. I'm sure she'll get a new job, but she will forever be the publicist who tweeted something offensive on her way to Africa.
I'm not saying to not speak your mind, and not discuss things that are important to you. One of the very best things about the Internet is its democratic nature when it comes to content. Everyone has a voice.
However, you have to have foresight. If there is something that might be funny, but potential offensive, damaging, unsightly--don't post it. There have been too many cases of firings over accidentally posting on your company's twitter--or even misjudgments about intentionally posting on your company's twitter. It doesn't matter if it's your company or it's an entry level job--it will reflect on you and your employer, no matter what. That disclaimer on your social media? It won't mean anything if you post something really bad.
If this went viral what were the implications for me?
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me to help create something viral (hint: you can't), I'd have probably...ten dollars. Or a million. Most things don't "go viral"--you can nearly never predict what will--because the Internet is a strange place. Sure, you can know that some things surrounding hot button issues might be more likely to shoot to the top, but true viral--that's something unpredictable.
However--you should always ask yourself the "what if". Is my contact information private? Are my social channels protected? What could someone glean from googling me? Are there embarrassing photos?
If you have to ask you probably shouldn't post it.
Your gut knows the answer--as humans we have an intuition about what we want our names tied to or not. If in any way shape or form, something you write, tweet, discuss--could be construed in a way that would reflect poorly on you--don't post it. If you have to run it by people--you already know the answer. Play devils advocate--the world online is full of trolls, that can and will raise their pitchforks at any given moment. Am I offending potentially a group of people? Am I offending my employer? Could this affect my company?
More than anything--think before you shout. Because the echo is forever.