What do you do when your media is more stupid than social?
We have all made mistakes in our life. Some can be rather cheerfully characterized as singular embarrassing episodes, while others are often rooted in the inexperience of youth. You grow up, you learn a lesson, and you move on. But some mistakes are much more serious in nature. Something you've said or done has hurt someone and there's virtually nothing you can do to make it right.
And sometimes these mistakes take place in the virtual world, through social media. And just like real life, usually these mistakes are relatively minor in nature. You said something silly, you let the red wine get the better of you when checking out your ex's Instagram posts. But sometimes these mistakes are very serious indeed. You went on a expletive-filled rant. You used racist, sexist, stereotyping, or belittling language. Your rhetoric crossed the line and became abusive. And now it's coming back to haunt you.
"What did I just say?"
Simply deleting an offensive social media post is akin to sticking your head in the sand. Just because you can't see something anymore doesn't mean that the problem goes away. Besides, you can count on someone grabbing a screenshot of your bad behavior - it never, ever really goes away.
When you realize you've made a mistake, take a deep breath and prepare to eat some humble pie. Post a short, sweet, and sincere apology. Explain that you made a mistake, you are very sorry, and you have learned an important lesson.
Next, in the comment section, or in a second post, briefly explain that you are deleting the original offensive post so friends, family, and colleagues won't be forced to see it in their timeline. But to prove that you have nothing to hide, attach your OWN screenshot photo of that now-deleted, offending post to your message.
Why would you want to re-share a mistake you'd rather forget? You do so to remove the offending post from your main timeline and to simultaneously preserve it in an appropriate context it to help reinforce the message that you have learned your lesson.
Finally, lie low for a while. Scale back your social media presence and allow tense emotions to naturally resolve. If applicable, reach out privately to directly make amends to those you may have hurt. A blanket public statement is no substitution for a personal conversation.
"Did I actually say that?"
Sometimes we instantly recognize that we did something wrong, and sometimes it can take years to come to that realization. This understanding may come as a result of personal growth and development, while other times our mistakes are pointed out to us by someone who has a different perspective.
A late apology is better than no apology at all. Follow the steps above and make a short, sweet, sincere apology. If applicable, add a brief explanation of why it has taken so much time to recognize the mistake. Showing how you have changed and improved your behavior over time supports that you have learned a lesson.
Remember, an apology is something that you offer up because it is the right thing to do. There may still be serious consequences as a result of your online behavior, some which may affect your employment.
"What do you mean I can't say that?"
Social media mistakes can interfere with your career as much as your personal relationship. Keeping separate profiles for the personal and professional sides of your life can help, but ultimately you have to understand that there is really no such thing as anonymity or privacy on the internet. It's best to assume that anything you say or do online will eventually be seen by your boss or your most important client. Disclaimers like "Retweets are not endorsements" and "All opinions are my own" have no legal standing and will not excuse poor online behavior.
Perhaps the most famous example of the personal and professional social media worlds colliding happened when PR executive Justine Sacco made what she thought was a sarcastic quip about HIV/AIDS to her 170 or so Twitter followers. But it didn't read as sarcastic. It read as rude, elitist, and ignorant.
Minutes after she sent out her insensitive tweet, she boarded an 11 hour flight to Cape Town. While Sacco was in the air, the internet went crazy and the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet went viral like nothing Twitter had ever seen before. By the time Justine Sacco landed, she was out of a job and into a disaster.
Sacco's explanation, that she was mocking ignorance about HIV/AIDS, was drowned out by an increasingly hostile Twitterverse. #HasJustineLandedYet had became a rallying point for abusers and trolls as well as activists and commentators. And suddenly it wasn't just Sacco who had a social media problem with her employers - thousands of spontaneous internet bullies did as well.
Of course, not every social media fallout requires lawyers or a public relations team. Usually a contrite visit to the boss's office will suffice. But Sacco's tweet highlights the importance for every single workplace to have a social media policy. Virtually every messy case of workplace disputes involving social media result from not having a social media policy.
Social media can be an amazing platform for self-expression, communication, and community building. But just like in any community, sometimes mistakes are made. And, like all mistakes, it's never pleasant to deal with the fallout but that doesn't mean you can't deal with social media mistakes in a polished, professional, and meaningful way.
Stumbling through social media? Sculpt Social can help you get on your feet!
Vanessa Chiasson is the founder and senior digital strategist of Sculpt Social.