Sharing your opinions via social media and maintaining a neutral, professional image are seemingly at odds in our current political climate.
This was the overwhelming sentiment at four rapid round discussions I facilitated recently at SF IABC’s Idea Exchange event. The small group discussions I led focused on whether communications professionals – particularly job seekers and consultants responsible for drumming up their own business – can express their personal views online without impacting their personal brand. A common thread was fear of unknown consequences and concern for unintended alienation of professional contacts.
While there are no clear cut rules for social media (although many of the participants at the SF IABC event agreed that posts on LinkedIn needs to remain strictly professional), here are five steps to creating a social media strategy that can help you align with your authentic voice in a responsible, cautious and conscientious way.
- Get clear about your motives and the result you want. Ask yourself what is driving your need to share your views and opinions on social media. Do the same for your desired result and who you want to reach. Included in this self-assessment should be an estimate of how much air time you want to give to politics and related issues. It may seem as though there’s an endless stream of these types of posts, but that doesn’t mean your feed on any given channel needs to follow suit.
- Conduct a quick cost-benefit analysis. Get specific with yourself about not only what you fear you could lose but also what you could potentially gain. Don’t just look at it from a business standpoint, connect your head with your heart and your soul. What are you being called to say and is it really in opposition to your mission as a communications professional? If you are true to yourself while remaining open-minded toward others, you may be more respected than reprimanded. As for the potential cost, do you want to be working with someone who may unfriend, unfollow or take business away from you? And, more importantly, would you do the same if the tables were turned? Your answer is your compass.
- Practice writing statements rather than judgments. As communications professionals you know that tone and messaging can make a difference in how something is received and perceived. Explore how you can present your posts, tweets or pictures as a statement of your point of view rather than a judgment of someone’s beliefs. Don’t mimic the bad behavior and negative tone you may see online, model by example and show the world what effective and respectful communication looks like.
- Start small and create your own recipe. Begin with one Facebook post or tweet. How does it feel? Keep experimenting until you perfect the recipe to suit your palette. Give yourself the flexibility to change up that recipe as needed.
- Explore creative alternatives. There are all kinds of workarounds such as a secondary account on Twitter or Instagram, blogs under an alias or volunteering your social media skills for an organization on whose behalf you can speak your heart out. Also consider whether sharing an article or graphic created by someone else is a way to get your point across without directly attaching your voice to it.
Finally, maintain perspective and keep your ego (and possible paranoia) in check. After all, you’re a communications professional and while you may have many friends and even more acquaintances, the chances of something blowing up and going viral will not likely be as high as what you see with public brands. Your post, while important, is only a drop in the vast social media ocean. Tread lightly but swim confidently.