If I've ever had the pleasure of meeting you in person, I'm fairly confident that you'd find me personable, humorous, and compassionate. If I've never met you in person, though, I fear what you might think of me based on my social media presence.
I'm a passionate person. I'm passionate about my work, my family, my friends, my faith, and my politics. I absolutely love dialogue on any of those topics… so when social media emerged over a decade ago, I jumped at the opportunity to provide and discuss my viewpoints on virtually any topic. I am genuinely curious as to why people believe what they do as well as explaining why I believe what I do.
My home life growing up was incredibly diverse. This includes all perspectives – religion, politics, sexual orientation, race, wealth… etc. My father was an excellent role model and devout Roman Catholic. He welcomed the opportunity to break bread with anyone so our home was always open and the conversations were always lively but incredibly respectful. I grew up in a home that welcomed any conversation.
The key to breaking bread with people, though, was that you looked them in the eye and they recognized the empathy and understanding that you brought to the table. You learned about where and how they grew up. You could understand why they believed what they did based on the experiences and context they brought to the conversation.
Social Media Didn't Ruin My Reputation
If you've put up with me the last decade, I'm confident that you've witnessed my eagerness to engage on social media. If you're still around, I'm thankful you're still here – because I ignorantly jumped into social media headfirst excited at the opportunity to build better connections and better understand others. It was a shallow pool, to say the least.
Chances were if you'd seen me speak at an event, worked with me, or had even heard of me and added me as a friend on any social media channel… I connected with you online as well. My social media channels were an open book – I shared about my business, my personal life, my family… and yes… my politics. All with the hopes of connectivity.
That didn't happen.
When I first thought about writing this post, I truly wanted to title it How Social Media Ruined My Reputation, but that would have made me a victim whereas I was an all-too-willing participant in my own demise.
Imagine hearing some shouting from another room where associates are passionately debating a specific topic. You run into the room, don't understand the context, don't know the backgrounds of each individual, and you shout your sarcastic opinion. While a few folks might appreciate it, most observers would simply think you were a jerk.
I was that jerk. Over, and over, and over.
To compound the issue, platforms like Facebook were all too willing to assist me in finding the loudest rooms with the most intense arguments. And I was honestly ignorant of the repercussions. Having opened my connections to the world, the world now observed the worst of my interactions with others.
If I had written an update (I tag #goodpeople) that shared a story about someone who sacrificed and helped another human being… I'd get a couple of dozen views. If I threw in a barb on another profile's political update, I got hundreds. Most of my Facebook audience only saw one side of me, and it was awful.
And of course, social media was more than happy to echo my worst behavior. They call that engagement.
What Social Media Lacks
What social media lacks is any context whatsoever. I can't tell you all the times that I offered a comment and was immediately labeled the opposite of what I actually believed. Each social media update that the algorithms promote push and pull in the tribes of both audiences who go on the attack. Unfortunately, anonymity only adds to it.
Context is critical in any belief system. There's a reason why children often grow up with similar beliefs as their parents. It's not indoctrination, it's quite literally that every day they're educated and exposed to a belief from someone they love and respect. That belief is fully supported over time by thousands or hundreds of thousands of interactions. Combine that belief with supporting experiences and those beliefs are locked in. That's a difficult thing – if not possible – to turn around.
I'm not speaking about hate here… although that can tragically be learned as well. I'm talking about simple things… like faith in a higher power, education, the role of government, wealth, business, etc. The fact is that all of us have beliefs ingrained in us, experiences that strengthen those beliefs, and our perceptions of the world are different because of them. That's something that should be respected but is often not on social media.
One example I often use is business because I was an employee until I was about 40 years old. Until I actually started my business and employed people, I was truly ignorant of all the challenges of starting and operating a business. I didn't understand the regulations, the limited assistance, the accounting, the cashflow challenges, and other demands. Simple things… like the fact that companies are often (very) late in paying their invoices.
So, as I see other people who have never employed anyone providing their opinion online, I'm all in on providing mine! An employee that went on to run their own business called me up months later and said, “I never knew!”. The fact is until you're in someone else's shoes, you only think you understand their situation. The reality is that you won't until you're there.
How I'm Repairing My Social Media Reputation
If you follow me, you'll still see that I'm an engaged, opinionated person online but that my sharing and habits have changed dramatically over the last couple of years. That's been the difficult result of losing friends, upsetting family, and… yes… even losing business because of it. Here's my advice on moving forward:
Facebook Friends Should Be Real Friends
The algorithms in Facebook are the worst in my opinion. At one point, I had close to 7,000 friends on Facebook. While I felt comfortable discussing and debating colorful topics with close friends on Facebook, it exposed my worst updates to all 7,000 people. That was awful as it overwhelmed the number of positive updates I shared. My Facebook friends simply saw the most partisan, awful, sarcastic updates of mine.
I've whittled Facebook down to just over 1,000 friends and will continue to reduce that quantity moving forward. For the most part, I treat everything now as if it's going public – whether I mark it that way or not. My engagement has dropped dramatically on Facebook. I'm also keen to recognize that I'm seeing the worst of other people, too. I'll often click through to their profile to get a real look at the good person they are.
I've also stopped using Facebook for business. The Facebook algorithms are built for you to pay to have your page updates visible and I think it's truly evil. Businesses spent years building a following and then Facebook ripped all but paid posts out from their followers… totally losing the investment they made in curating a community. I don't care if I could get more business on Facebook, I'm not going to try. Additionally, I don't want to ever risk business with my personal life there – which is all too easy.
LinkedIn Is Only For Business
I'm still wide open to connecting with anyone on LinkedIn because I will only share my business, my business-related articles, and my podcasts there. I have seen other people share personal updates there and would advise against it. You wouldn't walk into a boardroom and start yelling at people… don't do it on LinkedIn. It's your online boardroom and you need to maintain that level of professionalism there.
Instagram Is My Best Angle
There's little or no discussion, thankfully, on Instagram. Instead, it's a view into my life that I want to carefully curate and share with others.
Even on Instagram, I have to be careful though. My extensive bourbon collection has actually had people connect with me out of concern that I may be an alcoholic. If my Instagram was named “My bourbon collection”, a row of bourbons I've collected would be fine. However, my page is me… and my description is life over 50. As a result, too many bourbon pics, and people think I'm a drunk. Oy.
As a result, I'm deliberate in my attempts to diversify my Instagram pics with photos of my new grandson, my travels, my attempts at cooking, and careful glimpses into my personal life.
Folks… Instagram isn't real life… I'm going to keep it that way.
Twitter Is Segmented
I openly share on my personal Twitter account but I also have a professional one for Martech Zone and DK New Media that I strictly segment. I periodically let people know the difference. I let them know that Martech Zone's Twitter account is still me… but without the opinions.
What I appreciate about Twitter is that the algorithms seem to present a balanced view of me rather than my most controversial tweets. And… debates on Twitter may make the trending list but don't always push through the stream. I have the most fulfilling conversations on Twitter… even when they're in passionate debate. And, I can often deflate a conversation that's getting emotional with a kind word. On Facebook, that never seems to happen.
Twitter is going to be a tough channel for me to give my opinions up on… but I do realize that it could still hurt my reputation. One response taken out of context for the entire conversation of my entire profile could spell ruin. I do spend more time deciding on what I share on Twitter than I have in the past. Many times, I don't ever click publish on the tweet and move on.
Is The Best Reputation Not To Have One?
Meanwhile, I do stand in awe of leaders in my industry that are well-respected that are disciplined enough to never take a stand on social media. Some may think that's a bit cowardly… but I think it often takes more courage to keep your mouth shut than to open yourself up to the criticism and cancel culture we see accelerating online.
The best advice, sadly, may be to never discuss anything controversial that can be misrepresented or taken out of context. The older I get, the more I see these people grow their businesses, get invited to the table more, and become more popular in their industry.
It's a simple fact that I had alienated people who had never met me in person, never witnessed my compassion, and who had never been exposed to my generosity. For that, I regret some of what I shared over the years on social media. I've also reached out to several folks and personally apologized, inviting them for coffee to get to know me better. I want them to see me for who I am and not the evil caricature that my social media profile exposed them to. If you're one of those folks… give me a call, I'd love to catch up.
Isn't it sad that the key to social media may be to avoid using it altogether?
NOTE: I've updated sexual preference to sexual orientation. A comment rightly pointed out the lack of inclusivity there.