Question: How do you protect your personal brand in an era when every last thing you do or say, even on your worst days, can be passed around online to a global audience?
The reason I am so fascinated by the “lifecaster is jerky to movie theater employee” story I came across on Neville Hobson’s blog (and also reported on Valleywag and Techcrunch) is that while the young man was most definitely in the wrong, did that automatically make those attacking him in the “right”?. I made sure to point out in my comments on Neville’s post that certainly, one minute of video cannot possibly come close to giving us enough information to judge someone’s whole life. In remarking on the incident, I judged merely what was presented—one minute of him acting like a jerk, and then his ensuing defensive attitude and refusal to admit any wrongdoing. Neither of those things is enough information to judge a person’s character.
And yet? We do it all the time. (Update: the lifecaster did ultimately apologize, and it’s interesting that his post admitting his mistake attracted a very small number of comments compared to his original post and the subsequent coverage.)
We’re all guilty of snap judgments, the Internet is terrific at it, and loves nothing more than to call attention to the shortcomings of others (the reasons why are probably an entire other post, perhaps for a psychologist to write).
Check out the (admittedly hilarious, if a bit NSFW) comments on Gawker regarding the online dater who wrote a pretty appalling email to a prospective paramour. The guy clearly has some issues, if the emails posted are any indication. But the “worst person in the world,” as he was billed? Please.
This example is far more egregious, and again it’s clear that this guy has some serious issues. But anyone—future dates, family members, future children, future employers—will now be able to find out about his tacky and creepy dating faux pas for…how long does Google keep things around again? Oh right, forever.
I’m not defending jerks or bad behavior, I’m just wondering if the downside to all this wondrous technology may be that no one is ever allowed to have a bad day, or behave poorly at any time in the duration of their lives, lest what they say or write ends up online to be viciously ridiculed for all of time.
This concern becomes particularly pressing when you consider the implications it has for employers. If I were employing any of these examples, their behavior would absolutely lead me to view them differently, even if they are not necessarily indicative of the person’s overall character or integrity—not to mention their work performance.
Dan Schwabel wrote a great post this week on the merging of personal and professional lives online, and in social networking in particular. In the era of Facebook, it’s increasingly difficult to keep these worlds apart, and how do we manage? In pre-Web 2.0 days, employees were able to lead “double lives,” if they so desired. Model employee by day, obnoxious Internet dating creep by night, and their employers didn’t have to hear about (thank goodness).
These examples are just important—if a bit dramatic—reminders for everyone to keep on their best behavior when dealing with the unknown. Yes, we’re human, we’re allowed to have bad days. We’re not allowed, not anymore, to react in the extreme. That may be an overly cautious outlook, but I would definitely think twice before letting my temper get the better of me around someone I did not know, particularly if that person was web savvy.
Anyone with an interest in their personal brand might consider doing the same, and if the byproduct is a world that’s maybe a little more harmonious, what could be the harm?