Surviving (and Thriving) the Silent Career Killer Epidemic

Surviving (and Thriving) the Silent Career Killer Epidemic

Social Media Health Check Tips to Save your Professional uh . . . behind!

There is no shortage of ways to permanently damage or kill your career.  Today’s prevalence of technology makes the task easier than ever.  Everyone is armed with the latest devices ready to capture and share our flaws and gaffes with the world.  A few taps and a life can change forever.

It’s not even the malicious behavior of others that are causing the most damage. Indeed, those are the events that get the majority of the media coverage and become the next cautionary tale to be avoided.  No, we don’t need someone else capturing us at our worst when we freely share our own dastardly behavior and contemptable opinions for the world’s eager consumption.

Hiding behind the ambiguous safety of our devices, we seem to believe we can spew our most recent thoughts and opinions with impunity.  The guiding principles of basic social courtesies are discarded.  We’re enraptured by the fictional power of our own words to change public opinion and elevated in the certainty of those opinions to open the world’s eyes to our remarkable intellect and insightfulness. Herein lies the great deception.

We have the right to express our opinion, but we’ve forgotten to ask if we should.  The irrevocability of cause-and-effect of our social media behavior are vastly understated.  We are mostly blind to the consequences of our words and the images we post.  On the other side of our usually less than eloquent articulations lurk the silent killer in the form of missed opportunities, damaged reputations, crippled relationships, and disenfranchisement.  We aren’t disassociated from our actions because we ascribe the terms “virtual” or “online” to them.  They carry with them the same ramifications yet, like yourself behind the screen of your device, they go largely unseen.

Make no mistake, I’m a huge proponent of personal expression and the celebration of individuality.  It is imperative, however, that career and business conscious individuals understand that, to a large degree, a certain level of professionalism and reputation management can’t be ignored when your personal life is on public display in the form of social media.

However, all those things can be accomplished without the loss of business, professional advancement and missed opportunities.  In the end, if you’re willing to risk those things simply to express your next rant do it with the knowledge of what may be forfeited in taking the action. 

Potential customers, employers, friends and family, and the world at large will judge based on what they see with or without the full context.  You’ll never know a particularly controversial or offensive post(s) resulted in you not getting a call, a referral or that interview you desperately wanted.  As a hiring manager and as a customer I do my homework as most individuals today would do. We are checking every social media page you have.  We’re Googling your name and researching your online reputation so we can make the best, informed decision possible.  What is your online presence telling the world about you?  Like many people who have given the topic little consideration, it’s probably telling you to clean up your act!  Try to put yourself in a stranger’s position when critiquing your online reputation and ask how my posts, shares, the graphics, and videos are telling my personal story. What about the stuff you allow others to post on your page or “tag” you in?  Folks, you have the control to shape your narrative.  It can work to your favor or detriment. 

I write and talk extensively about professional personal branding.  See where I’m going with this?  Yes, as a professional dependent on growing and maintaining clients for your products or services you can ill afford to ignore the subject.  It’s not optional.  It’s not negotiable.  It’s simply a fact of the modern world where we find ourselves today.  You may argue it’s your personal pages and you can do whatever you want.  Oh yes!  You can do it but again I ask, “Should you?” You’re in the Business of Attraction, and the natural process of alienation must be navigated with careful tact and skill best left for another discussion.

Now, let’s talk about how to best protect yourself for this virtual epidemic with its very real consequences. 

Health Check Tip #1 – Wash Your Hands of Political and Religious Rhetoric

Due to the prevailing political and social unease (yes, that’s putting it nicely) it seems prudent to place in the top position.

Parenting done right includes the earliest lessons regarding the fundamentals of proper behavior and manners and at least some basic do’s and don’ts from the Social Graces Handbook which clearly isn’t being printed or read as predominately as in days past.   In those lessons, as I recall, that among the topics of conversations to avoid in polite gatherings included both politics and religion.  Even before I had anything to contribute on these subjects I knew caution was advised.  For those that braved these discussions, it wasn’t difficult to gauge the changing dynamics that would undoubtedly take place among the participants.  Even as a kid, I knew when tension started to run high.  However, those with a degree of refinement maneuvered these exchanges with respect and an even give and take with the exchanging of ideas.  Those that didn’t . . .  well, there is a reason these topics where cautionary tales taught early.  The real-life consequences were immediate and generally unpleasant unless the cooler head prevailed. 

Today, it’s easy enough to post a rant and offend people en mass.  Since this has the potential to stay out there forever, it’s an offense that just keeps giving (or taking away to be more accurate). Social media provides the tools to either venomously defend your opinion or keep your views one-sided thus shutting down the other side of the debate.  It’s the perfect platform to argue – you always win!  The results, however, are the same just on a grander scale.  Unlike a  face-to-face conversation, you are missing the body language and real-time verbal clues to measure the effect of your words and the feelings of others whom you would not likely knowing hurt or offend.  

Remember, your opinion isn’t nearly as important to others as it is to you.  You don’t have to regurgitate your every thought and belief on a subject.  When the nausea hits and you feel the need to spew it . . . fight the urge.  You’ll feel better later.

Health Check Tip #2 – If it Tastes Bad Just Swallow it

Tasteless comments and humor are difficult to swallow.  Perhaps one of the easiest ways to offend and alienate is through poorly considered jokes. 

The internet is the world’s petri dish!  Unfortunately, I believe it a reflection of the values and mores currently “trending” in our society.  Like much of humanity, it grows a dirty culture; a breeding ground for the obscene and perverse like a festering sore.  People aren’t perfect and the dirty, if left unchecked, like an infection will grow and that is what we are witnessing with this perfect contagion.  Sadly, the ease of social sharing and uploading, coupled with the lack of common sense, good judgment, poor ethical hygiene and declining personal standards have seemingly made it acceptable to post such garbage without forethought or consideration.

The lines of tasteful humor have not only blurred but have been nearly erased.  Jokes at the expense of others to garner “likes” and comments are so commonplace that we’ve seemingly become immune to it.  Shock value is the new currency.  Profanity has become the accepted tongue to many.  However, it isn’t okay despite the relaxed views of many.  It isn’t okay to share and post hurtful images and comments related to someone’s race, size, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  The beautiful things that make us all unique are not to be depreciated for a laugh.  Going viral at the expense of your reputation has lasting consequences. 

Those that don’t share your humor won’t get you . . .  and you won’t get their business or respect.  Additionally, it’s the perfect opportunity to remind those of us bound to certain ethical and professional standards set by our profession’s license or credentialing aren’t exempt when you’re “not on the clock”.  A tasteless post could lead to the loss of your livelihood and career suicide.  Just like a germ-filled sneeze . . . cover your mouth and everyone stays well. 

Health Check Tip #3 – Make and Keep Regular Spell Checks

Death by poor grammar and punctuation.  Oh yes!  It’s happened!

Did you see this one coming?  Personally, I credit Twitter for killing the language arts.  Perhaps it was text messaging.  Either way, for the sake of time-savings, frustrating button tapping, we live in an abbreviated world where limited-character communication has become mainstream.  The use of icons and emojis have reduced us to using the equivalent of cave paintings and hieroglyphs to express ourselves.  Why use a paragraph when a picture says a thousand words?  Right?  Wrong!

Arguably, the standards in professional communication have become quite lax.  Some argue against it, but I profess it is true.  Merely read a few articles on Yahoo News or the latest novel or professional journal.  WOW!  20 years ago a typographical error in a  leading publication seemed rare.  I wish I could say that my grown expertise in the English language allows me to notice these more often but I know that isn’t the case.  My southern slang and twang leave grammatical ashes in my wake.  

It is essential to understand that you are being judged on how you communicate with others even on your personal social media pages.  Now, there is a bit more forgiveness here to be sure but don’t fall into that unhealthy behavior.  It’s junk food where proper nutrients are needed.  Excessive misspellings, the overuse of emojis and poor grammar reflect poorly on you.  Aside from drawing your education and experience into question, it can come across as simple laziness and thoughtlessness.  Care enough to put some effort into how you communicate and certainly avoid these pitfalls in email and handwritten communications.  Your friends may not care, but a new client, a possible new boss or other professionals in your field will undoubtedly take note.

Health Check Tip #4 – Be Likable to Be Liked

Ok, Captain Obvious at the helm here but we both know everyone doesn’t subscribe to this axiom.  Chances are, if you are one of those people, you haven’t read this far and have little concern with the opinions of others. Best of luck to them if their careers are susceptible to those opinions they so easily discard!  However, if you get it, let’s make sure you don’t forget it. 

Monitor the tone of your posts and consider how your content may be perceived by others.  I’ll give you a personal example that I’m constantly working on – negativity.  For the most part, I’m a pretty optimistic and upbeat person.  I detest whining and complaining and the victims of the world – the Injustice Collectors.  However, I’m human and negativity catches me unaware more often than I care to admit.  My first reaction is to share my misery with others in some lame effort to make myself feel better.  For some reason, I feel the need to share my latest illness or aches and pains.  I get some sick pleasure ranting about poor customer service or any number of things that went horribly wrong throughout the day.  Don’t! Stop! Quit!  If the prevailing subject matter in your social media content is negative people will be turned off.  No one wants to hire or work with this kind of person and they will steer clear of you.  If you need to get something off your chest – phone a friend, but limit these type of posts.  Certainly, people want to see the human side of you, but as a friend of mine is fond of saying, no one likes Mr. Grumpy Gills. 

Another subject, perhaps the one that really get my distractor’s britches in a bunch, is one of alcohol.  Before that happens with you, I want to personally assure you I place little judgment on your use or lack thereof of alcohol.  It’s a personal choice.  However, from a branding and perception standpoint, I’m going to highly advise you to limit or simply don’t post or share content related to alcohol.  I’m going to toss in marijuana or any other controversial recreational activity.

So why bring this one up?  Did you miss the word controversial?  Again, if you are looking to attract like-minded drinking and smoking professionals post your heart out!  I’ll remind you of the risk versus benefit argument.  The cause-and-effect principle always comes into play.  There is a great divide on the subject of recreational beverage and drug use.  Customer/clients and potential hiring companies will not look favorably on this behavior.  You may never miss a day of work.  You may never go to work with impaired cognition and your professionalism away from home is unmatched but does your social media behavior reflect that beyond a doubt?  If no, I want you to seriously consider removing such content or simply not posting it.  This may have larger or little consequences depending on the prevailing demographics where you live.  If it doesn’t benefit your career why risk it?  Play it safe when in doubt.

Other cautionary posts include complaining about your current job or boss or worse yet, complaining and making fun of customers or clients.  These are sure-fire ways to kill or damage your career.  You’ve heard the old saying, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds.”  You are simply asking for trouble with this kind of online conduct.  Period.

Nobody likes a boaster.  Seriously.  If you want to put people off bragging will make that happen for you pretty quick.  Nobody loves me like I love me.  You are so right my friend!  Need some examples?  If your social pages look like an entertainer’s fan page you’re doing it all wrong!  The king and queen of the selfies are dead.  They are buried or they will bury you soon when you try to assume the throne.  If your name isn’t Kardashian avoid this behavior.   We don’t even like it when they do it.  It doesn’t work in most professional environments and doesn’t reflect well on you a person. Honestly.  If you continually flaunt your new car purchases, your designer clothes, exotic vacations, famous friends and other me, me, me activities you’ll be the only one seeing them after a while.  This is not likable behavior.  Certainly, share exciting news happening in your life, that’s part of the social experience, but don’t do it simply to make yourself look like something you’re not.  People will celebrate your wins with you if you do it honestly, humbly and correctly. 

Health Check Tip #5 – The Golden Rule Prevents Common Ills

Lastly, when everything else has failed, revisit the Golden Rule:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  What does this have to do with a career-killing epidemic?  It’s simple, the dying never learned this lesson. 

Social media is a tool for relationship building.  It’s about people.  It’s nothing more complicated than that.  It has all the characteristics, positive and negative, of our real-world interactions.  There are good people and bad; nurturing relationships and the abusive.  If you learn to be a friend first then the friendship will come.  The same is true in business relationships.  You can thrive in the growing epidemic by bucking the negative trends and utilizing the social media tool as it was intended.  Be kind.  Interact with others.  Celebrate what is going on in their life.  “Like”, “Share” and comment.  Don’t be a social media voyeur peeking into others’ lives but participate and share with thoughtfulness what is happening in your world as well.  Give and take.  Speak and listen.  Be a good example.  Lift others while you climb as said by Martin Luther King Jr.  These aren’t new concepts, just ones we need reminding.  These are behaviors the world rewards.  If you want success and you want the promotion or the new client or new job be seen as worthy of it.    

By this point, I think you’ve probably examined your own personal social media behavior and wondered if there is room for improvement.  I have.  I guarantee the examples above have at least called to mind the poor skills exercised by many you know.  The delineation of your personal social media presence and your professional reputation are not as separate as most people want to think.  Is the world outside silently passing opportunity over you because of your personal social media activity?   Your success could be dependent on the action you take today to clean up your act. 

Lastly, consider having other professionals whom you trust critique what you’re posting.  Constructive criticism here is essential if you’re concerned with your ability to make that call.  Don’t take this exercise personally.  This isn’t a colonoscopy for goodness sake.  It’s painless if you put your ego on the shelf.  All professions generally require a yearly review or check-up from time to time.  This is no different.  Avoid the deadly mistakes others have made with a social wellness evaluation. 

You deserve all the success your hard work can bring.  It doesn’t require giving up any of your personal liberties or making different lifestyle choices that define who you are.  The silent career killer is failing to take the necessary safeguards to protect your professional reputation from the poorly made personal choices you publish online.  To your health and wellness both personally and professionally.

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