I don’t know if you’ve noticed it as much as I have, but social media seems to turn reasonable, even-keeled, congenial people into ruthless extremists looking for a fight. People, even business people whose customers can easily find their rants, seem to feel secure in unleashing their hostilities as they hide safely behind their computer screens. Facebook is a breeding ground for debates over contentious issues. Twitter is flooded with profanity. YouTube is overwhelmed with videos of otherwise reasonable people rambling angrily over this, that, and the other. What are we to make of this behavior?
A friend of mine recently commented about the negativity prevalent on Facebook. I don’t believe that negativity is the problem. I believe that the problem is indecency. You can have a disagreement without being rude. Dissent can even be healthy. We learn new things only when our beliefs are challenged. Nevertheless, when we are insulting and antagonistic, we don’t cause people to reevaluate their beliefs; we cause people to defend their beliefs. If we want to have healthy intellectual discussions, we’ve just got to be nicer.
But what about “authenticity?” Aren’t we being inauthentic if we hold back? Shouldn’t we be as vile and contemptuous as we feel? Otherwise, aren’t we pretending to be something we’re not? No, I don’t think so. Being authentic isn’t the same thing as being transparent. We should never be completely transparent. We should always filter our communication. If we are to get a long with other people in this world (and we’ll all be much better off if we do), we have to think about how our words and actions are going to make others feel. That’s not being inauthentic; that’s just being polite.
Your Personal Brand
As business people, we need to be more wary than anyone of how we’re behaving online. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of personal brands. We don’t have to call it that; we can call it “reputation.” In business (or in life for that matter), your reputation is everything. If the person representing the business is hostile and derogatory, people will see the business in the same way? You can say that you separate your business from your personal life but, to consumers, there is no difference. If they can draw a connection between you and your business, they will.
Obviously, it’s just good public relations to be nice on your social networks. You don’t want to give people a reason to attack your business. But, beyond that, what’s so wrong with being nice just to be nice? What if you weren’t just being nice because it’s good business and you instead just became nice all around? Would that be such a bad thing? Here’s what I think. We don’t need to pretend to be nice on social media just so we don’t drive potential customers away. Instead, we should work on really being nice…and good PR will just be a natural byproduct.
What do you think? Is it possible to bring civility back to social media? Can we all learn to play nice?