Perhaps you’ve heard the stories: a “Facecrook” gets busted for a burglary after he left his Facebook page up on his victim's computer; a Wisconsin man – forbidden to have a firearm according to a domestic abuse injunction – is arrested after his ex-girlfriend saw him posing with a shotgun in a Facebook profile; a grad student inappropriately tweets: "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work." A teenager gets busted for having a party while his Mom is out of town, after his friends post the photos. (Oh wait… that last one happened at my house.)
All are funny yet tragic examples of over-sharing, or at least stupid-sharing, coupled with questionable judgment. But surprisingly, it’s not just the dim-witted or teenagers who are guilty of it.
An interesting study by Retrevo demonstrates that "Social Media Remorse" is more prevalent that you might think: almost 1 in 3 of social media users (or 32 percent) say they've posted something online they regretted. Of that percentage, 3 percent say it ruined their marriage or relationship with someone; 6 percent of them said it caused problems at work or home.
- 59 percent of iPhone users have posted something online they regretted.
- 54 percent of people under 25 years old have posted something online they regretted.
- Only 27 percent of people over age 25 have posted something online they regretted.
For small business owners, social media can be an awesome way to humanize your business, to give your company a human face and a personality, and directly connect with customers or prospects, and all that. But beware of the Social Media Remorse, based on the tendency toward TMI (Too Much Information).
Some caution is especially wise now, as recent changes to Facebook's default privacy settings are slipping user's profiles into search results. The newly proposed features are stirring up controversy in Congress, as well as creating privacy concerns among users. Retrevo's survey suggests that people were already getting themselves into trouble by hastily posting content that they find themselves regretting later. Now, of course, Facebook's new privacy settings aren't going to help.
"We live in a digital age where everything is expected to be public and instant," says Manish Rathi, Retrevo Co-Founder and Vice President of Marketing. "Whether it's pictures from your kid's birthday party, or your perspectives on political events, people are sharing their thoughts faster, and with a wider audience than ever before. Look at trending topics on social media sites like Twitter and you'll find people sharing their opinions on everything from the Gulf Coast oil spill to Justin Bieber. Given the urgency and frequency with which people are expected to share, it's no wonder some postings might later be regretted."
I suppose this would be the point in the post where I’d give you a list of things and behaviors to avoid in social media circles… but really, I think common sense prevails. In parenting, it’s usually served me well to follow a bit of advice that a more experienced mom gave me when my children were very small, “Parent like your kid’s preschool teacher is peaking in the window.”
I think social networks require the same attention: assume that your customers, suppliers, employees, colleagues, and so on, are watching. Would what you are saying or posting embarrass you? Would it be inconsistent with your brand? Then rethink it.
(Of course, the study did note that almost half of those who said "yes" to regretting their posts, said they were able to remove it later.)
Here are a few more words of advice about staying out of trouble and improving your social profile online:
1. Participate. Maybe you think Twitter is ridiculous, Facebook is for kids, and LinkedIn is useful only for those who need a gig. The truth is that the Internet is driving business, and your partners and customers will expect you to be there, as Dave Fleet (of Thornley Fallis Communications) has said. Assuming they Google you (and they will), do you want to allow others to manage what they’ll find when they do? Or do you want to have a say?
2. Engage. Using Twitter and Facebook and the rest as a one-way broadcast medium is so sad… it’s almost tragic. Yet, I see it all the time, and you probably do, too. Social media channels allow businesses an amazing and unprecedented opportunity to listen to customers and engage with them directly. Don’t blow that incredible chance!
3. Be mostly positive. In a grouchy mood? Stay off Twitter. At least, be snarky and crabby sporadically. (Unless, of course, that is your brand. In that case, carry on.)
4. And finally, in social media, there’s a huge difference between personal and personality. The latter is good… the former, well, not so much. Check the survey results above.
Photo credit: lindyireland