This weekend, I had two ‘incidents’ on my Facebook account. Neither of them escalated as all parties involved were mature enough with their social media interactions not to let the conversation get out of hand. However, without careful handling, both incidents could have become a messy battlefield, in which both sides take large numbers of fatal hits.  This made me ponder. What made these incidents end well, rather than the opposite? As a result, I jotted down 6 tips to keep yourself safe from ‘flaming’, and trouble on social media.

1. Use Emoticons

The nature of social media, particularly if you are using Twitter, is short messages. Without the visual and audible clues of normal interactions, it is very difficult to work out the tone, sense and emotion of someone’s words. Do use Emoticons – the little smiley or frowning faces – so that people can see whether you are having a bit of light banter or are deadly serious.

2. Only write what you would say in person

It is all too easy to forget on social media that there is a human at the other end of the computer. That person has feelings too. Before you write something on social media, ask yourself, would you say this to them in person? How would you moderate your message to say this in person? A good rule of thumb is to only write something on social media that you would be happy for your mother, boss, journalist and best client to read. [sc name=LinkedInProfile]

3. Assume a private forum is actually public

My son’s new school was very proud that they were communicating to parents via a protected Twitter account. This concerned me. After all, how could they check that all of their followers on Twitter were parents? How do they have the checks in the system to remove followers when the child is no longer at the school? In this situation, you cannot assume that a private communication channel is actually private. The same goes for what you are doing on social media. Never assume that a private forum is truly private. Remember what happened to the bankers involved in the Libor rigging scandal? They assumed that their private chat room where they discussed what to set the rates at was just that, private. Well it wasn’t! You may assume that deleting your post or tweet will make a problem go away. Unfortunately – and just check today’s media – most people will take screenshots of ‘interesting’ social media posts. This means you can never be sure that you have completely erased all the evidence. It is best to operate on a be-safe-rather-than-sorry basis when posting on social media!

4. Don’t insinuate

Even if you don’t name the actual person in your post or tweet, people’s on-line networks are interconnected, and enough people will know enough about you and the other person involved to put two and two together. Now, they may be completely wrong about your intention and meaning, but a huge amount of damage to your reputation and other reputations can happen. This situation actually happened to me several years ago, where someone insinuated something about me which was completely incorrect. I’m glad to say my reputation recovered very quickly, but it wasn’t a nice thing to go through.

5. Avoid starting or entering into an argument

Arguments do happen on-line, and it’s best to avoid those discussions all together. When emotions run high, it’s too easy to write something you may regret later. The best way to avoid an argument is to not start it in the first place. Of course, this is much easier to write than say! Whenever you are posting something on social media always assume that the situation is not black or white and there are some ‘shades of grey’.

6. Acknowledge the positives in a post

You may not agree with what has been posted, but people are much more amenable to what you have got to say if you say something positive about what has been posted first.

In summary

Social media can seem to be a scary place. However, with some thought and realising that there is a human behind every post, you shouldn’t go far wrong. [sc name=LinkedInProfile]

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