Private Faces, Public Places

With age comes discretion. The relationship between age and technological expertise, however, seems to be inverted. As social networking sites play an increasingly important role in public and private life worldwide – as of September 2012, 91% of internet users eighteen and older used social networking sites regularly – individuals must be correspondingly careful with what information they’re broadcasting to the world.

Despite privacy policies and password protection, the fact is that once something is on the internet, you can’t guarantee where it goes. It’s therefore even more important that, before tweeting about that new tattoo or starting a blog about your manager’s fashion faux pas, you consider where that information is going.

This is the first article in a three-part series about individual branding and reputation maintenance on Twitter. In this basic primer, we’ll talk about how you decide whether or not to tweet about that weekend in Goa and, if you do, how to minimize the possibility that pictures of that drunken tattoo come back to haunt you.

So you’ve chosen your Twitter handle. For the sake of an example, we’ll use @ForExample. Now you get to decide between a public and private account. A public account is just that: completely public. Your tweets are available not just to your followers, or even to other Twitter users, but to anyone with a web browser and a search engine.

If you have a decent understanding of discretion, that’s not a bad thing. If, however, you’re not exactly known for thinking before you speak (or text, email or BBM), you might want to consider a protected account. This means that:

  • Other users request your approval to follow you.
  • Your tweets cannot be quoted or retweeted.
  • Your tweets will not show up in Twitter or Google searches.

Online reputation management

The first thing that any new Tweeter must understand, however, is that there is no such thing as real privacy. We’ll talk about the difference between public and protected accounts, but the fact is that, once you’ve pressed that little button that says “Tweet,” it’s out there for all to see.

A protected account seems like a secure solution, until your ex-girlfriend takes a screenshot of a tweet you posted about skipping work with a hangover and emails it anonymously to your employer.

So, even if your only followers are your brother, best friend and your dog, it’s better not to tweet about anything potentially illegal (or just incredibly damaging to your reputation); you never know when loyalties will change – although your dog is probably a safe bet – and lawsuits after the fact won’t stop the information from spreading.

Looking for a good line to draw when deciding between a public and protected account on Twitter? Ask yourself the following question: “Is this something I want my mother or my boss to see?” If the answer is no, go for a protected account.

Individual branding

A protected account is the equivalent of going out to dinner with some friends. Looking around the restaurant, you’re pretty sure that there’s no one you know, but you try to keep your voices down, just in case. Some people like to talk politics, others try to motivate the rest with inspirational quotes, one girl talks incessantly about her hair, and that kid in the corner listens but doesn’t say much.

Inside jokes will be dredged up and laughed at. You should try to avoid gossip, because you never know if one of your friends is going to repeat it, but you’re pretty confident that they’ll all respect your privacy. In most cases, the conversation will never leave that table.

If you’re only posting things that would make your mother proud, then by all means opt for a public account. It’s a great way to share information, build a public face, and even network.

You can basically cover all the same topics you tweeted about with a protected account – although gossip is probably not your best bet – but do so with the understanding that, rather than addressing a group of your closest friends at a table in the back corner of your favorite restaurant, you’re making a speech at a formal dinner. Your political commentary may alienate some followers.

Retweeting every article published on the IPL will probably not earn you too many friends. Some followers will have different ideas of what constitutes an over-share: a friend in the UK might chuckle at how you stepped in dog poop on your way to work, but the coworker who shares your desk will not be as pleased.

Twitter

Continue to treat each public tweet as a very concise speech. Identify your purpose: to emote, to edify, or to entertain. Say your piece clearly and unambiguously, while trying to step on as few toes as possible. And, before you press “Tweet,” always remember that those 140 characters are going to be in the public domain forever.

Image courtesy:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Erica Taylor has been working in Public Relations since 2001. Her New York based company, Erica Taylor PR, has worked in all aspects of PR management, including product launch, social media, red carpet and events. Raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Erica attended SMU and The Art Institute in Dallas, where she studied fashion design. She moved to Mumbai in 2012, and is a freelance writer as well as a PR Consultant.