6 ways to avoid a personal PR crisis on social media

Your personal Twitter account might say, ‘My tweets are my own,’ but that doesn’t mean you can’t get yourself—and your company or client—into trouble. Here’s how to avoid a mess.

Many professionals—including me—are active on social networks as de facto but not official representatives of the brand. Sure, we can put, “My tweets are my own,” in our Twitter profiles, but if you associate yourself with the organization you work for or represent, you bear extra responsibility. You may not be tweeting under the organizations’ official account, but you are contributing to its reputation nonetheless.

So here are guidelines that anyone who associates themselves with a brand in social networks should consider following when engaging in conversation online:

Keep it clean. Even though TV networks now regularly use language formerly considered vulgar in prime time, anyone associated with a brand should steer clear of doing the same in social media. And DEFCON-5 level vulgarities—for example, the F-bomb, its derivatives, and other phrases of its ilk—should be dligently avoided.

Make sure you want to see it again; it will come back to you.
Sure, you can delete a tweet or a status update, but you can’t delete impressions, and if someone else grabs a screenshot of your message, your bad judgment may live on in perpetuity.

Consider whether your boss/CEO/child/parents would be horrified. If the message you’re planning to issue would cause people you care about—or people you want to respect you—to recoil if they saw your statement in The New York Times or on Mashable‘s home page, don’t post it. The same rule applies for petty insults and snarky commentary. Don’t give in to temptation.

Take the high road. You will never go astray if you stick to the high road, and your statements will never come back to haunt you—or your boss. Be a good sport, a gracious winner, and a good loser. And never be a jerk.

Do some scenario planning. What are the best-case and (more important) worst-case scenarios your message could generate? Do you want to have the conversations your missive could incite? Before posting that tweet, think through the scenarios.

Divide and conquer, or don’t mix work and play. It’s fine to have a space to let your hair down, and many people have “work” and “play” social presences. My fun space is on Facebook. My presence there is decidedly nonprofessional—I yammer happily about sports, my garden, and my pets—and my network is made up of people I know and consider friends. I manage my privacy settings carefully, so people I’m not connected with can only see what I want them to see. That said, I don’t run amok on Facebook, but I don’t avoid controversial subjects on that network.

It’s safe to assume that someone is always watching, and that messages you issue will never go away. Hewing to these simple guidelines will help you avoid tarnishing your personal brand—and the organization that you represent professionally.

Have I left anything out? Let me know in the comments.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

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