Social media makes sharing easy, but it's important to expose only the most attractive parts of yourself. Cover up the things you would rather the rest of the world not glimpse.
We've all wished we could take back something we said, or hoped that an embarrassing memory would fade with time. With a little luck, and forgiveness from others, it's possible to make a fresh start and put the past behind us.
Unless, of course, our past is indelibly etched into the hard drive of a computer—and recalled with the press of a button.
As an FBI agent, I've interviewed many different kinds of people. The most productive interviews were with the people who talked—and talked—because they were often the people who didn't know when to stop. They provided too much information about themselves, and many times those details ultimately damaged their character and/or goals.
Here are some things to keep in mind when developing your social network:
1. Be specific, not brief
Social networks force you to condense large thoughts into a few skimpy words. The rule to remember is this: Be specific, not brief.
On Twitter you can only use 140 characters, so you can't afford to make a mistake; specificity is key to conveying your thoughts. Too often, in an effort to be brief in comments, people use words that can be vague and confusing.
The best business plans are one page because they force the writer to concentrate on essentials and clearly think through the issues. In social media, the limit is one good sentence. If that sentence is specific and vivid enough, your readers will get the point.
2. Be intentional
The greater your goals, the more intentional you need to be when communicating them to others. Develop a strategy so that the social world sees exactly what you want it to see, and nothing more.
Start off by focusing on the people with whom you want to interact. Once you figure out who your audience is, you'll have a much better idea of how to intentionally create the type of content that they need. By sharing valuable content, you drastically increase the chances of gaining followers that will promote you in their networks.
3. Be close, but not intimate
If you want people to accept you, you need to accept them too. This means you need to make close and frequent contact with people if you expect your relationship to grow. In other words, continued presence makes the heart grow fonder. Instead of asking, "Who can help me?" ask how you can be a valuable and regular player in others' lives.
In social media, you can extend your reach by helping others. Do this by sharing helpful content. It's easier to connect with people and stay close with them if they feel that you have their best interests at heart. Plus, they might reciprocate. Establishing close relationships increases the chance that a person will mention you if they know of a company or organization that needs your help.
4. Talk back
Your behavior doesn't go unnoticed, so pay attention to online etiquette. When someone responds to your content, talk back. Form personal connections with your audience and encourage followers to continue viewing your content. You can do this by:
- Using sound judgment and considering how others will interpret your comments
- Replying in a timely manner
- Taking the time to thank people for their interest and their responses
- Giving credit where credit is due
5. Be discreet
Keep your goals in mind to prevent overexposing yourself on social media. Words are expressions of your mind—they communicate your personality. The wrong information can leave the wrong impression, so be discreet in the way you convey yourself in social media. People often fail to consider word choice when expressing themselves, but word choice is just as important as your facial expression, handshake and the way you dress.
No matter how compelling your story, remember to condense the most revealing details. Maintain appropriate boundaries on social media because if something embarrassing is hanging out, everyone sees it.
Bottom line: Think twice before hitting the send button.
LaRae Quy is a former FBI counterintelligence and undercover agent. She blogs at Your Best Adventure and contributes to Social Media Today, where a version of this article originally ran. This story first appeared on PR Daily in May 2011.