Bragging in the Virtual World


Social media is a powerful tool that can do wonders for our businesses, rekindle relationships, make us feel more connected, and save us time. But unfortunately, if left unattended, it can become a negative gift that keeps on giving. This article contains tips on making social media work for you, not against you.

BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It was published in 2003, three years before the first tweet was sent and one year before being mere friends was no longer enough—we had to be Facebook friends, too. I haven’t had the opportunity to update BRAG! to reflect the importance of social media; however, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySpace have quickly gained importance when it comes to effectively promoting ourselves and our products. Conversely, as the world has become increasingly networked and interconnected, these very same tools can be detrimental to any bragging and branding campaign.

Admittedly, I am not a heavy user of social networking sites and I don’t blog on a regular basis. You are still likely to find me networking in person at an event or a café. Mea culpa! However, I am often interviewed by online media outlets and my “Moosletters” are reprinted on numerous websites. Because both end up archived online in perpetuity, I have become very mindful about how I might be perceived and the messages I want to convey. After all, any online content will continue to brag on my behalf for months and years to come.

I started thinking seriously about virtual branding after a recent visit from my niece, who, after taking a few months to travel in South America following graduation from college, returned home to apply for jobs. She stopped by for some help with her resume and some coaching for an upcoming interview. Wanting to show me a few pictures from her trip, she logged onto her Facebook page.  As we sat together and scrolled through her photo albums, I was appalled. Now admittedly, I’m two generations removed from Millennials and much has changed regarding etiquette and behavior during that time. However, of the 300-some pictures on her Facebook page, about 280 of them showed her in party mode with drink in hand or tilting towards her glassy-eyed inebriated friends. And the kicker was a photo of her smoking a hookah. When I shrieked at that one, she said very innocently, “We’re not smoking grass, Aunt Peggy! It’s tobacco!”

Although that might be the truth, I explained, a potential employer couldn’t possibly know that. In my day, hookah equaled hash. End of story. I suggested rather strongly that as she transitions from college life to the working world, she delete the majority of the partying pictures—especially the ones that make it look like she spends her time at one drunken orgy after another.

It’s a well-known fact that employers not only Google potential employees but also look them up on sites like Facebook and MySpace. And, though I might be accused by some Gen-Yers of being old fashioned, the photos my niece had posted on her Facebook site did not portray the image of her she would want hiring managers to have. She reluctantly agreed to revise her selection of photos and delete the incriminating ones.

Social media is a powerful tool that can do wonders for our businesses, rekindle relationships, make us feel more connected, and save us time. But unfortunately, if left unattended, it can become a negative gift that keeps on giving.  Since I may never get around to updating BRAG!, here are some tips on making social media work for you, not against you.

The very first thing you need to do before joining any of these sites or penning your first blog is to ask yourself, “What are my goals?” For example, if you’re joining for professional reasons, your goals might include increasing your client base, broadening your network, establishing yourself as an expert in your field, or attracting publicity. After identifying your goals, consider which digital tools are likely to help you achieve them.

Once you’ve chosen the outlet for your message, take some time to think about how you want to be perceived. The people reading your posts and blogs will be forming opinions about you and your ideas very quickly, so it’s imperative that you craft an image that aligns with how you want to present yourself.

Be a mindful social media user. Before you tweet, post a status update, or write a blog, be specific about what you want to get out of each and every missive. Before you post anything online, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this message reinforcing my brand?
  2. What is the point or goal of this particular message?
  3. Is this something my audience wants or needs to know?
  4. What do I want my audience to do, think, and feel when they read this?

Talk with your readers, not at them. Make your postings conversational and entertaining. When possible, give visitors useful content, tips, or a link to an article that doesn’t specifically relate to you or your products. Starbucks has a great social media strategy. They engage with customers by answering questions and inviting them to events, all in an interesting and entertaining way.

Whether you’re on networking sites like Facebook or MySpace for personal or professional reasons, take steps to make your profile more private. On Facebook, this involves being fastidious about your privacy settings. Here’s a great guide by Mike O’Neill with ten tips for protecting your privacy on Facebook. However, sites often launch new privacy settings so stay abreast of the latest privacy news for the sites you frequent, adjusting your settings whenever necessary. But remember, nothing online is completely private. Try to be aware of what friends are posting about you and know that accounts are often hacked. Mike O’Neill sums it up best in the conclusion to his original privacy guide: “The best way to prevent embarrassing items from showing up on Facebook in the future is to not make bad judgments in your personal life.”

Like my niece, many people have some dirty laundry airing online that needs to be cleaned up when they enter the workplace, transition into a new career, or attempt to reinvent themselves. If Googling yourself brings up unflattering pictures or stories that you can’t get rid of yourself, companies such as ReputationDefender will hunt down and delete offending material for you. And if you decide to shut down your Facebook account altogether, don’t be naïve and think you can make it disappear simply by deleting it. Facebook is notoriously bad when it comes to protecting the user’s private data. In fact, after deactiving your account, all that data is still there—it’s just hidden. According to this New York Times article, “completely deleting a Facebook account is so difficult that a cottage industry of unofficial help pages devoted to escaping Facebook has sprung up online.” One person quoted in the article says that Facebook is “like the Hotel California. You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave.” If getting rid of your Facebook account is something you want to do, be diligent and take whatever steps are necessary to completely close your account and delete all your information.

In this digital age, it’s not just big brother who is watching us. The fact of the matter is that all of us are all watching each other all the time. Don’t write anything—not a comment on an article, something in a chat room, or an email to a coworker—that you wouldn’t want made public. And be careful how you act, whether you’re sitting in front of or away from your computer. These days, everyone has a camera on their phone and the internet at their fingertips.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by social media, are unclear about what you want to get out of it, or you just can’t see how it will further your self-promotion or branding campaign, then let it rest. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t necessarily mean you must. But at the least, be sure to keep an eye on how others have included you in their social media lives.