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Business - Written by on Thursday, July 22, 2010 12:14 - 0 Comments

Tim Bevins
This never gets old: Social media can cost you your job

Okay, it might. But for every story about people losing their jobs because of tweets (Octavia Nasr’s case got lots of coverage: http://tinyurl.com/ybc6y5s, http://tinyurl.com/38ctb9a), there must be hundreds of stories about how tweeting and blogging add to business, enhance corporate and individual reputations, improve customer relations, and generally produce positive results. In a report we published late last year (Success (and Failure) Factors for Web 2.0), I offered a few ideas for avoiding problems, starting with a very simple one that most people forget: everything you post is, or can easily be made, public and it’s virtually permanent.

So what happens when people make professionally damaging mistakes with social media? It seems they either are very emotional about a topic and simply forget the facts of public and permanent, or they forget that what they write can be interpreted differently than how they meant it. The process of getting what we mean to say – what we think we are thinking – into text or video is complex. Even the very best writers and speakers can forget to imagine how what they are writing or saying may sound to an audience that does not share the same context with them. In a time when there are more public words in audio, video, and text than at any time in history, and so many attentive readers, it becomes harder and harder not to make mistakes. And when made, mistakes grow the more they are chewed on.

What fascinates me is that pundits and talk-show folks and now even politicians who simply state their biases and bitterness and anger openly seem to get away with it while often well-intentioned people who misspeak or just screw up their writing or speaking are driven from their jobs and vilified with language and criticism that used to be addressed to the most vicious of criminals – people who meant to do harm.

The warning about the minefield of social media still stands but perhaps we should start accepting that mistakes will be made and that every mistake may not be a fatal character flaw. After all, that may be you – or me – who is thrown onto the Mel Gibson pile at any moment.

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