Seven pitfalls to avoid in social media

The boon of social media can quickly turn into a bane if one isn't careful. Here are seven things to watch out when posting messages on social media.
Arun Nair - Author

Social media has become an integral part of our lives and the way we network today, so much so that we take it for granted. However, it is an evolving medium (a toddler when compared with television, radio and print) and we are still grappling with its usage and protocols, learning along the way - often learning from our mistakes. But these mistakes can be costly, dire in some cases.

So before you head into trouble yourself, here is a compendium of some common pitfalls to avoid while using social media.

  1. Indiscreet ranting

    We've all had bad days and wish to give vent to those feelings; social media is an easy outlet. But be careful with your ranting because it could come back to haunt you as many have unfortunately learnt.

    Take the case of Stephanie Rice, triple Olympic Gold medalist who after watching the Wallabies win over South Africa in the tri-nations tweeted unwisely, "Suck on that fa**ots". Her homophobic comments didn't obviously go well with the audience and the media. She had to fore go a contract reportedly worth $800,000. To make it worse, Jaguar, one of her sponsors took back the Jag XF they'd given and severed ties with her.

    According to a study by Proofpoint, an Internet security firm, of companies with 1,000 or more employees, 8 percent of these companies report having actually dismissed someone for their behavior on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

  2. Anonymity

    Many perceive their posts and updates on social media to be anonymous, or atleast that is how it appears. How else would you explain evocative messages left by people that they wouldn't in real life. Anonymity on social media or for that matter the Internet is relative because even though you don't leave your personal details, you still leave a trail behind - a digital footprint. However, this relative anonymity is also boon for activism and social causes as it drives people to voice their opinions untethered. But do so only if you are ready to stand by your words.

  3. Publicity

    If anonymity is a misconception that is a pitfall for many, the converse is also true - exposing too much in social media is dangerous. Be very selective about what aspect of your life you wish to reveal on social media and who you wish to reveal it to.

    "According to leading reports, identity theft is an increasing threat and identity thieves mine social media for personal data. Seemingly innocuous information like your birthday, where you went to school or your pet's name can be a gold mine for identity thieves."
  4. Irrelevant updates

    Your updates on social media are meant to keep your friends and followers posted with what's happening in your life, or what is of relevance to them - so stay relevant.

    The easiest way to lose your reputation in social media is to go frivolous and completely irrelevant with your updates. For e.g. I know of a few acquaintances in my network that have lost respect amongst their followers as a result of this indiscretion.

  5. Too many updates

    If you don't like sending too many SMSs to your friends in a day, you should apply the same principle in social media.

    Nobody wants a 24 hour running account of your life story, crowding your followers' feeds/timelines. Too many updates are such a put-off and people will tend to take you less seriously.

  6. Vanity

    Social media is the ideal platform to network, collaborate and share. This is a level playing field for everyone to benefit from, so leave your narcissism behind. If your communications are one way, where you don't respond to the comments and updates left by your friends, you appear self absorbed. This will affect your reputation and the way people perceive you. Even worse, someday when you need help you may be left in the lurch.

  7. Hoax and Chinese whispers

    Social media is amorphous, gargantuan with hundreds of millions of nodes of communication and content. News and information isn't controlled by one source alone, it can emanate from any of these millions; hence information can be diluted or even manipulated to suit one's agenda.

    Eventually the noise becomes so high that it becomes difficult to distinguish signal from the noise. For e.g. in Twitter, it isn't uncommon for spammers and trolls to intrude a trending topic with their own convoluted version of the message. This in turn gets re-tweeted up by unsuspecting users cascading the effect across to hundreds and thousands of users.

    The only way to avoid being a part of such mistakes is to verify the authenticity of the source. If the news appears to be a rumour or if the news appears too good to be true, then it probably is!

These seven pitfalls of social media were compiled keeping the average user in mind, but many of them apply to corporations too.