Watch Your Language

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There are many places online to speak your mind in a quick, off-the-cuff and immediate fashion. This makes it one of the most fascinating media channels to come along. With it comes many challenges, like the legacy you leave behind in the heat of the moment…

This is nothing new. We all know that Google has a very long tail. We all know that anything we say, can and will be accessible forever. When it was mostly Blogs and Podcasts, there were enough incidents where people would write and say stuff that they later regretted or was challenged by others. Sometimes things got ugly, sometimes these incidents just came and went. Whatever the case, they are indexed and accessible by doing a very simple search.

Twitter ranks high in Google.

Have you been paying attention to the type of language and tone of voice that certain people use when they are on Twitter? People who consider themselves Communications, Marketing and Public Relations "professionals" using some very bad language and acting more like a high school sophomore than someone whose opinion is to be revered and respected. One of the basic rules given at any etiquette course is to never discuss religion or politics at a dinner party. If we kept with that line of thought, there would be some very empty spaces online. While we may have evolved from that line of thinking, the sentiment still stands strong: be mindful of what you say as you never know who will be offended, but worse, you never really know who you are talking to and who is listening in on that conversation. In public forums, this is both amplified and multiplied. It’s not just who you’re talking to (or about), it’s everybody else in the world that is able to see it, read it and make their own judgement call about it.

How would you feel if you didn’t score that client you were working on because they discovered an online conversation that you did not deal with in the most professional manner?

Some have been bold enough to say that it doesn’t bother them one bit because that potential client obviously would not be the right match personality-wise. Based on some of the content I have seen passing through these channels, it has little to do with personality and much more to do with how that client feels their company would be represented in terms of reputation and credibility.

Bottom line advice would be to watch your language. Consider the perception one would have of you if they had never met you and only had your Twitter feed as a point of personal and professional reference. Take a look back on your Digital Footprint. How would you feel if – in the future – your children looked back on these conversations to see what their parent was really all about?

Following through is also a part of this conversation.

Many people criticize and comment but when responded to, they do not take the time or check back to see how it ended. All too often, I’ve come across Blog postings where someone left a comment that was responded to, but they never returned or never bothered to finish the dialogue. Even though their point may have been made, the public perception of how that conversation ended is not in their favour. Don’t just criticize, provide a solution or a different perspective that can stand on its own.

Sometimes being able to publish every whim that scans across your brain is the best thing in the world. Sometimes, it can become a real problem. The killer is this: when it is a problem, you’re usually the last to know and the damage is done.


  1. Ultimately, Twitter is just another extension of your personal brand. You should consider anything that you say or do online to add to that image. Anything I say on Twitter or anywhere else is something that I would be ok with a client viewing.

  2. Mitch we gotta stop agreeing on stuff.
    Online has always been thus. Don’t say anything on here that you wouldn”t say out loud at a cocktail party.
    That being said however, I truly believe the quote:
    “Be Who You Are and Say What You Feel Because Those Who Mind Don’t Matter and Those Who Matter Don’t Mind.â€?
    Dr Seuss

  3. I agree with you Mitch. It seems people seem to think that because they are online it gives them some sort of anonymity and all rules are thrown out the window when realistically just the opposite it true.
    People need to be careful how they behave online because the exposure is much larger due to the fact that more people have access to the information they type on Twitter or any other online social network sites.
    In other words what one wouldn’t due face to face, one should not due online as well.

  4. Great post! I would add that people might consider, too, whether or not they want to be known for associating with people that are prone to “outbursts” or expressing extreme viewpoints about certain issues, since that can reflect on them, too (e.g. if they’re known for supporting each others’ work or doing events like webinars together, etc.). I know it sometimes raises a question in my mind. Would you agree? or is it just me?

  5. Great addition Helen… and it does point to that “high school syndrome” I wrote about in the post. Sometimes you might be judged by the people you are connected to as well. I don’t think it’s such a huge issue when it comes to online social networks, because most people are not that discriminating about who they accept as a “friend.”
    To someone who is not used to these spaces though, it might be a very real concern.

  6. I Couldn’t agree more on this. While I would love to use twitter to showcase my life, there are just too many things I don’t want to have lying around in the open, I tend to use facebook for more personal things and Twitter for Professional / professionally accepted things.

  7. Hey Mitch!
    I could not agree more with you and Mose. It’s not only a matter of what you want people to see/read/know about you and what you can conceal from them, but rather a matter of being authentic and acting on-line just as you would off-line. There are things you wouldn’t say in a face to face meeting because you know it would not be right, so why do it on-line? Being on-line does not give you anonymity, on the contrary it puts you on the world’s biggest stage! So act right!.
    Its like I say when I’m confronted during my Personal Branding presentation with the typical “well its my own business what I do in any social network” reply: You would not go to a job interview dressed in shorts and sandals (except you were visiting Google in MV πŸ™‚ and enter the room swearing and talking ill about your previous employer and clients, so why do it on-line when its practically as if you were in a permanent job interview?
    Anyway my two cents…
    Great post as always! Have a great 2009!

  8. Warren Buffett calls this the “front-page test.” He challenges all his employees to act as if anything they say or do will appear on the front page of the local newspaper, for all their friends and family to read.
    Thanks for the good reminder.

  9. Yes I agree 1000% Mitch and have noticed the same thing.
    Something else interesting is many of these communications and marketing professionals on Twitter (and even their blogs!) wear their religion/god/jesus on their sleeves. IMO it kills their professionalism.
    Makes me take them less seriously and lose trust in anything they say in the future.
    Not sure why they would do this – makes zero sense and isn’t related to what we’re doing here.

  10. I have been shocked to see professional ‘leaders’ and executives using the phrase “wtf” in their communications. When did this become acceptable business communication?! I have also seen communicaters tweet they are going to ‘have a hoot’ before going to xyz. Do I care how people act? Not really. Would I reconsider doing business with them? Yes.

  11. Michelle, responding to your comment, what’s wrong with language? Is obscenity all that bad, really?
    Do you judge a potential client who smokes if you’re opposed to it? Why should language be different, especially if the word has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary?

  12. There are some pretty nasty words in the dictionary Ari πŸ˜‰
    But seriously, when it comes to Marketing and Communications, most companies are trying to hire someone who can navigate them through these choppy waters. If they come across someone who is engaged in Beverly Hill 90210-esque antics in these channels, odds are they won’t see them as a viable option.
    I know that I loose tons of credibility for certain people whom I have heard about after following their online conversations.
    Maybe I’m old fashioned like that (but I doubt it).

  13. A place like Twitter actually gives me a chance to develop my conversational style and become more aware of my own shortcomings. It’s a less stressful version of being forced to watch myself on video after giving a presentation. The trick is to strike a balance between being my real, authentic self (isn’t that the number one rule of personal branding?) and yet being someone who can debate, provoke, and make people think and feel. It’s a process – and thanks for the reminder to be continually mindful of it. Not only is it recorded for posterity, it’s all too easy too be taken out of context because of the very nature of how Twitter is structured.

  14. Just as we DO judge people by their appearances, despite our mothers’ admonishments, so do we judge people by the way they speak. If pressed, I bet most people would admit they’d be more comfortable hiring a professional who has a professional demeanor, both online and off. I am.

  15. Hi Ari, the language in and of itself is just language, but peoples’ language and behaviour affects the way we perceive them. Decisions to hire someone or not would depend on circumstance.
    Would I hire a communicator who smoked? Sure. Would I hire a communicator to attract a younger or more liberal demographic if they had a foul mouth? Maybe. Would I hire that same communicator to speak to a conservative older audience? Not likely. Would I hire a smoker to be my personal trainer or life coach? Nope. It all comes down to the circumstance, but we can’t foresee all the potential circumstances where we might be negatively impacting someone’s impression of us.
    Someone may choose not to hire me because I’m perhaps too prudish for their liking. That’s their right.
    I think everyone needs to ensure they’re aware of the total image they’re portraying with words alone to people who have never met us in real life.

  16. @Todd Chandler my PR prof had that same saying during our first week at Humber College.
    I’m a pretty honest and say what I think kind guy and I don’t swear 99% of the time. I think you should be yourself in the end and have someone hire you for that. If you can’t be yourself you won’t produce in you personal or professional life.

  17. Marketers should obey the same maxim as parents when it comes to profanity – if you’re resorting to the usual swearing, it means you’re not very creative. If you’re going to unload the cannons on someone, do it right, creatively, and in a way that is funny. One of the best examples I’ve ever read was by J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote about a phrase he used to end a TV show:
    ” And yeah, that little closing card is going to remain on the show for its life…which will be long, long after its detractors (and admittedly myself) have gone to dust. On the one hand, it is a statement of hope to anyone else out there who has a dream, to follow it no matter who speaks against you, no matter the odds, no matter what they say to or about you, no matter what roadblocks they throw in your way. What matters is that you remain true to your vision.
    On the other hand, for the reviewers and the pundits and the critics and the net-stalkers who have done nothing but rag on this show for five years straight, it is also a giant middle finger composed of red neon fifty stories tall, that will burn forever in the night. ”

  18. @Michelle Evans makes an interesting point about hiring different types of people to speak to different audiences. In the “real� world, one person can have different types of speech. I don’t use the same level of language with a client as I do with my friends on a Friday night. I have different discussions and tones. The Web complicates things because it’s very difficult to segment my discussions and tone as these networks can intermingle. My boss is a friend on Facebook as well as linked in.
    I may be on my own here but as much as I see the logic behind personal branding on the Web, there is something that does not feel authentic about it, about watching every word I say to make sure it meets a “brand� standard or that it’s “brand� consistent feels overly constrictive. What I find attractive about the Web is the freedom people feel to express themselves and the raw quality of conversations on platforms like Twitter. In fact, when a CEO uses “wtf� I think to myself, finally he is being honest. It’s not the vulgarity that shocks me but the honesty that touches me.
    I honestly hope most people keep that authenticity and rawness about their web personas. All other Medias require a sort of purity from the participants. The Web has always been far more forgiving.

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