The Good, Bad and Ugly of Social Media: Part 1 – The Good
Social media has dramatically changed the way we engage with each other. It is a nebulous and ever-changing landscape of micro-interactions that allow us to share and consume unprecedented amounts of information. The various platforms give us a place to reconnect with old friends, get to know acquaintances, learn from strangers, share content and get up to the minute information on major happenings.
In spite of all that, or perhaps because of it, I have fairly mixed feelings about social media. I think the various platforms provide tremendous opportunities for good… but also so much noise and ugliness. I love that I have this incredible reach to both my inner circle of friends and family as well as hundreds of people that I may only have the passing acquaintance of a liked tweet or a shared blog post. But I also find myself feeling anxious and upset as I witness, through various social media platforms, every kind of cruelty and ignorance the world can conceive. Even now, I am finding it difficult to balance my interest in being informed and connected to my peers, with protecting myself from the constant vitriol that seems to be escalating in the wake of various world events.
I don’t think I am the only one who feels this dissonance. This is the first of a 3-part series on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of social media. It includes some strategies that you can use to protect yourself from and be intentional about the ever-darkening landscape of digital interactions. So in Part 1, let’s talk about the good part of social media, connecting, and how you can make sure you are doing it in the best way possible.
The Good: Connecting and cultivating your digital footprint
In my mind, the best and most remarkable thing about social media is the ability to connect with people and be exposed to information that you would never have otherwise. It is through social media that I learn about upcoming events happening around town, traffic or weather changes I should know about, new restaurants or shops, and pretty much any recommendation for any product or service I could ask for. I regularly interact with people I would never have crossed paths with or reconnect with people that I don’t see often. I see articles and news about places I will never visit and people I will never meet. I also get to share my ponderings and helpful tools with others through this very blog.
This opportunity for connection is incredibly valuable, but can also be potentially damaging if not managed in an intentional way.
Every single thing you post on the internet is a reflection on you and you will be judged on it. While this might not matter to you in certain circumstances, it might matter in the future when you are applying for a job or meeting a potential customer. You need to be intentional about what you post and how you want to be perceived. I don’t think that you should be fake or lie or misrepresent yourself, but I think that there needs to be a balance of impulsive sharing with an intentional framing.
Before you post anything or interact with anyone, you need to ask yourself:
- Who is going to see this?
- What are the consequences, if any, of posting this?
- Would I want my boss/mom/partner/kid to see this?
- Is what I am posting valuable/worthwhile?
The challenge is to still be genuine while considering your audience and the value of what you are posting. I don’t think you should be afraid to speak your mind or stand up for what you believe in, but you should at least consider if there could be any fallout. For example, everyone has an opinion on the current state of American politics. Depending on your circle of friends/peers/colleagues, posting that you are for or against a particular position could have an impact on future interactions because most of the issues are fairly divisive. The intent here is not to prevent you from expressing yourself, but rather to take the time to think it through and make an intentional decision.
The intent here is not to prevent you from expressing yourself, but rather to take the time to think it through and make an intentional decision.
Managing your social media footprint
It’s ridiculous how much you can learn about a person by looking through their social media profiles and what they post on the internet. As an employer, the very first thing I do before I consider a candidate for a role in my company is I review everything I can find about them online. I also do an internet search before pretty much every new meeting I take to get an idea of the flavour of person I am meeting. Sometimes there is a lot to see, other times very little, but these glimpses of a person’s digital footprint are some of the pieces that I use to gauge the kind of connection I want to cultivate with them.
What you choose to post online can paint a very particular picture of your values and interests, regardless of their accuracy so it is up to you to make sure it is the picture you want people to see. I believe that it is imperative that anyone who uses social media or posts on the internet in any forum thinks very hard about what they are posting, how they frame themselves and who has access to their profiles. Two ways you can manage this are:
I break out who I invite and accept invites from on my social media on a per platform basis. For me, the divide is personal or professional and I call this sectioning. For example:
- Instagram is mostly family and friends. I pretty much exclusively post pictures of my cats, nieces, and nephews.
- Facebook is mostly family, friends and close colleagues. I generally post things of a more personal nature and don’t accept friend requests from random people. I post my blogs, but also pictures of me with my friends and family and share the occasional interesting article or opinion.
- Twitter is mostly business and industry related. I share my blog posts and post about events I am attending/involved in. I also check out industry related things and ask for vendor recommendations.
- Linkedin mostly business and industry related. I post my blog posts and read about the professional backgrounds of people I meet.
I filter content using my own judgment, as well as through the built-in settings of each platform. I like to do this because it sets parameters for the types of things that I am going to share and who will see them. My professional colleagues likely do not care about my cats or how cute I think my nieces and nephews are. I am also generally not particularly interested in their kids/pets/daily lives so I am not going to share that kind of content with them.
2. Appropriate Privacy Settings
This might seem really obvious, but you should check the privacy settings for all of your social media accounts regularly and make sure they are representative of what you want. The following are some links for you to find out how to check what your privacy settings are and set them up.
Facebook – Facebook changes their algorithms every five minutes (or so it seems) so off all the platforms, I would check this one the most. You can do this via the Facebook help. You can also read up on what the settings mean in a bit more detail here.
Twitter – Twitter really only has 2 settings, public and private. Because of this, you have to consider what you post publicly. In addition to what you tweet, every tweet you like/retweet says something about you so keep that in mind.
Linkedin – You can select which parts of your Linkedin profile are public or private, and what is picked up by search engines. You can check out the Linkedin help for more information.
Instagram – Similar to Twitter, you can set your profile to private so that only people you accept can view your pictures. You can see how to control your visibility on the Instagram help.
Something to keep in mind, regardless of your privacy settings, is that if you have posted it on the internet, it isn’t really private.
Social media is an incredible way to connect and learn from others. It provides amazing opportunities to interact, which also means there are pitfalls for sharing things you might not want everyone to see. By being intentional about what you post, sectioning what you post and which platforms have which type of audience, and ensuring your privacy settings are properly configured, you can effectively manage your social media footprint.
In my next post, The Good, Bad and Ugly of Social Media: Part 2 – The Bad, I will talk about how to manage the inevitable distraction and noise of social media in effective ways.