How to Survive a Social Media Mishap

Katie Sweeney

It seems like every week, you hear of a celebrity, politician, or athlete who announces something on Twitter only to be met with a horrible backlash. The tweet is erased, and the offender has to make some sort of formal apology. These people have public relations companies working for them to handle a social media mishap, but what happens if you make one and you’re a mere commoner like you or me? You could be out of a job. According to Money, the National Labor Relations Board “has ruled in recent years that employers can justifiably fire you for comments you make on social media, even if they had nothing to do with work.” Fourty-eight percent of hiring managers also say that they have passed on candidates due to something that they have found on the potential hire’s social media account. Your online presence is important, and even if you are careful, you never know when a post could go viral or be misinterpreted. So what should you do if you find yourself caught up in a social media mishap? Money says to “assess the damage, apologize, then reinvent yourself online” by following the five steps outlined below.

  1. Figure out ASAP who is likely to see and take issue with your offending post/tweet/Instagram. If you posted a drunken video of yourself dancing at a nightclub and you wake up the next morning worried that your boss and grandma saw it, assess quickly which people—and how many of them—have seen it. Although you can’t be sure whether or not your boss saw it (unless she comments on it), Facebook says that “what pops up on a user’s feed is influenced by who they engage with the most, as well as how many comments or likes the post generated. So if you’re in the habit of liking your boss’s Facebook posts, it’s much more likely she may have seen yours. But if you haven’t interacted with her in the last several months or don’t see her show up much on your feed, you could (fingers crossed) be in the clear.”
  2. Get rid of the evidence. Delete the post immediately. Don’t shut down your entire Instagram; simply delete the incriminating photo.
  3. Apologize as needed. You won’t know for sure who saw the post, so pay attention to your friends, colleagues, and family members. “Workplace gossip likely makes it clear who saw your unfortunate post. However, if you’re unsure, don’t stir up trouble by asking questions that may lead to more problems,” Miriam Salpeter, the founder of Keppie Careers, advises. You don’t want to apologize for something that your boss may not have seen—you’ll only draw unnecessary attention to yourself. If you did offend someone, Salpeter says to “make the effort to engage live with a supervisor instead of trying to explain something via email, where tone is lost and it can be difficult to avoid the appearance of trying to justify an inappropriate scenario.”
  4. Scrub your social media. People are paying more attention to your social media presence, so keep all new posts squeaky clean. Look through your old posts and make sure there is nothing else incriminating in your feed. Remove anything that could tarnish your image; then ramp up your personal security by increasing the privacy settings.
  5. Reinvent your online self. Create an entirely new, strictly professional online image. Make a website using a portfolio site like About.me; then create professional only social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Keep your posts intelligent and on-brand. Never post to your professional account while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

To learn more about creating a positive online presence read Will the Real You Please Stand Up.

Have you ever dealt with a social media mishap? What did you do?

Explore: tech, Social Media

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