You’ve heard the phrase “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.”
Most of us were taught that lesson before kindergarten, but it escaped some people who hide behind screen names and spew mean-spirited comments on social media pages. Among those frequently targeted are public personalities including professional athletes and media.
While the majorities mind their manners, others who post to social media sites, as sports radio host Dan Patrick says, flex their “digital beer muscles.” You’ve seen (or been) that person. Someone has a couple of cocktails and the ensuing buzz induces liquid courage to say something you regret a day later. People who wish harm to others on social media can’t take it back. It’s online forever. Some, I’m sadly to say, don’t care.
Public trash talk isn’t new
Have we become a more cynical society? I don’t think so (although San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Williams, who after miscues during a game that could propel his team to the Super Bowl, received Twitter death threats after his team lost to the Giants, might disagree). People have long lashed out, with horrifying and sometimes threatening words. They just did it differently. Personal attacks were unleashed via snail mail, phone calls and lest we forget what still fuels many rants: talk radio. Today, all it takes is the click of a computer key and vitriol is spread among thousands, even millions. It wasn’t right in the past, and it certainly isn’t acceptable to those of us who appreciate others’ thoughts and opinions, now.
Social media is still a great communications tool
If social media users behave so badly, you might think that I steer clients away from using the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and the rest. Not a chance! I maintain that social media, when used productively and purposefully, is the best way to communicate with audiences, build and enhance brands, establish and reengage with like-minded professionals and read quick takes from others, than anything we’ve had in the past.
I’m pleased to report that most people online post deferential comments. Do they agree with everything we write and say? No, and we don’t expect them to. As with any forum, we only hope that social media fans and followers respect our work and remember that we are living, breathing people with families, friends and yes, feelings.
Freedom is yours, respect is encouraged
To the haters, I hope you will consider and take my advice: If you don’t like what someone posts, say so respectfully and offer an alternative idea, or simply unfollow (and don’t waste your time saying that you’re unfollowing…it’s cowardly). Don’t like what you hear on broadcasts? You’re free to change the station, medium or jump to another website. Don’t like a specific player or game? Get over it! It’s certainly not something over which to threaten or wish harm.
Keep at it!
To those who professionally use social media and wonder why you should stick with it when there are people who seek .5 seconds of fame, I offer the following:
• Be in the conversation. Act accordingly, and control your reputation so that others don’t do it for you. Did you screw up in public? Own it! Don’t let others presume.
• People appreciate you. There are thousands, sometimes millions of people that appreciate what you offer in information, entertainment and insight. The public tends to believe what they read and hear, so don’t leave your livelihood to speculation. Be in those conversations.
• It’s simple. Few tools help to build reputations better than the quick clicks of social media engagement.
• Social media posts allow you to weigh in on current events as they happen. Be sure you have someone to keep you in-the-know via text in case news breaks while you’re on assignment and away from your social networks.
• Traditional media is watching. Traditional media outlets watch industry social media pages and may broadcast your posts, or request interviews so that you may elaborate. If your question is whether traditional media pays attention to social media posts, all you have to do is turn on your favorite news or sportscast and see that they daily reference tweets and Facebook posts (and several times an hour when big stories break). It’s their way to connect with their own readers, viewers and listeners as well as find story ideas for their outlets. Traditional media outlets are expected to check multiple sources, but they can and do break news on social media much more quickly than in their own newspapers or broadcasts.
• Separate yourself from the masses. Your social media analysis and conviction further establish you as an individual voice among many in your industry.
• Respond quickly. If someone questions a comment that you made, you can quickly and concisely respond to fans and followers. Again, you control YOUR reputation not only with your actions, but by being in the discussion.
• Takes just a few minutes. Engaging on social media doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Post and answer questions a few minutes each day so that you’re in the conversation — or creating it — with your name attached.
• It can be a great experience! You might even have fun while you catch up on others’ posts and get fan feedback.
There’s no question that if you’re in the public eye, you must develop thick skin. There will always be naysayers. That said, there’s no reason why people who make their livings in front of millions must endure hate that some spew. To the latter, I say, be nice to others; you’ll make the world a much nicer place. To those in the public eye, realize that you can’t please everybody, but you’ll engage and entertain those who appreciate you when you take charge of your social space. Remember, as a public figure, you also have a responsibility to be civil and respectful no matter how much you want to lash out. That “cooler heads will prevail” thing…trust in that. You’ll be glad that you did.