In the wake of the 2016 US election season, I did a lot of reflecting about online behavior – for myself and leaders in general.
As I discussed in the article, What Does Your Digital Persona Say About You?, leaders in the virtual age can no longer separate online from in-person behavior. How you appear, what you say, how you say it, and who you engage with online will definitively impact your professional relationships and perhaps your career trajectory whether you like it or not.
Our online persona never sleeps. Manage this well, and the digital-you will be working for you while you sleep, surf, or work on that quarantine garden you started last month. Manage this poorly, and your online behavior will be like water flowing under your professional sandcastle – perpetually eroding and working against your most important professional goals.
As we enter the second half of 2020, we face a hydra of uncertainties, temptations, and stressors. COVID-19, disrupted markets, elections, social unrest, and the political weaponization of absolutely everything necessitate that leaders should have clear, actionable, and disciplined norms for their personal online behavior – particularly on social media.
Here’s a list of suggestions that will help keep you sane and strategic for the rest of 2020 and beyond:
Never post anything in anger – ever. If you were angry while at your office, you wouldn’t climb up onto the roof and start screaming at the street below. Don’t do it online either. I know… people do this all the time online. However, as mom used to say, just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. So, don’t.
Anger, fear, and (for that matter) lust, are the three cheapest ways for advertisers and platform designers to trigger habitual and low-quality engagement. It takes tremendous discipline to not be manipulated into doing things you wouldn't otherwise do.
No doubt, there’s plenty of things to be fearful or angry about today. However, if you need validation, to feel heard, or let off steam, find a safe way to do it with people who know you and not for an audience of strangers.
Your next client or employer will be perusing your online presence at some point in the near future. They don’t need to know how you were feeling during some week in the summer of 2020. Share that with your real friends.
Never post anything that you wouldn’t say in-person. I’ve never encountered anyone who behaves better online than they do in person. There’s a reason for that. You can behave badly or just be nasty online, while being insulated from facing immediate negative consequences. Act like a jerk in person and someone is likely to tell you so. Drop a verbal-bomb online and you can walk away more-or-less unscathed, at least in the immediate sense.
Don’t fall prey to the virtual version of beer-muscles: tough and blustery behind the keyboard, while being a shrinking violet in the real world.
Have the same high standards and courage in all aspects of your life. If a confrontation is necessary, step-up and make it personal, direct, and respectful… not public, oblique, and crude.
No LARPing. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Be one person online and off. In this season of our discontent, the virtual world is replete with online Che Guevaras and real-world insurance adjustors. One of the first things I personally do when making a new contact is compare the person I just met in real life to how they portray themselves online.
Deliberate or not-so-subconscious attempts to be multiple people at the same time are a red flag. Almost always, this ste