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Are your social media choices making you look like a jerk?

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media and I spend a lot of time on social sites for personal and business reasons. But I’ve noticed a growing trend. One I don’t really like. Social media is pretty appealing for the introverts, the socially-awkward, and the anti-social. You can be social without being “around” people. You can be anyone or anything you want to be and no one can dispute it because you’re behind your computer and not face to face.

  • The insecure can become confident.
  • The introvert can speak their mind with reckless abandon and little consequence.
  • The anti-social guy who doesn’t feel comfortable in real life social situations can be the “cool jock” on screen.

Social media can inflate egos and give users an inflated sense of self-importance and make them think they can behave any way they want. I don’t know where or when things shifted, but suddenly the rude, bad mannered, poor tempered, foul mouthed started being considered by some as being a “bad-ass” online.

Does this behavior continue and grow because others are afraid to call them out on it because they don’t want to get attacked?

What blows my mind is seeing completely inappropriate, unprofessional tweets from professionals and entrepreneurs in all different industries, freelancers, designers, and developers who are connected with clients, potential clients, industry influencers, and more.

I have so many questions, I just don’t understand it. Maybe you can help? Maybe you can answer these questions and shed some light on why people think acting like a jerk makes you look cool online:

  • Are you really a jerk, or are you pretending to be because you think it makes you look cool? Is this the real you or is it an act?
  • Does typing blatant profanity in your social media post make you feel like a rebel? How can you type that and think it’s a good idea? Or do you just not realize potential clients may be reading your posts?
  • Why do you think it’s okay to bad mouth and tear down other people publicly?
  • Do you think that your rudeness, profanity, drunk-talk, and client bad mouthing makes anyone want to work with you? Do you think potential clients see your tweets and think, “Wow I want to work with him!”?
  • Are you aware that those in your industry see your tweets and think, you just don’t “get it” — or that those who may have been considering you as a partner abandon the idea because you’re too much of a brand liability?
  • Does tweeting about how great you are and how much smarter you are than everyone else really make you feel important and smart?
  • Do you act the way you do because you think you’re untouchable in your industry?

If anyone can answer these questions? I’d love your insights. When I started Bourn Creative, someone gave me a great piece of advice, “You are your brand. Everything you do and don’t do, everything you say and don’t say, will be a reflection on your business and will shape others’ perception of you.”

Now, I’m not saying I’ve been the model of perfection when it comes to social media — I’ve posted my own rants here and there, and some tweets that maybe I shouldn’t have posted. It happens — and it will happen to everyone at some point as we’re all only human and we have feelings and make mistakes. But maybe, just maybe, those that behave like a jerk on social media had no one to advise them. Maybe they have no idea what the ramifications are for their online behavior. Maybe they have never considered their social media brand — or their brand in general. Who knows?

What I do know is that everything you post is a reflection of your own personal brand. Everything you post contributes to your reputation and the perception others have of you. It’s part of your branding.

  • Is what you post building your brand, or tearing it down? Or is it a little of both?
  • Do you see this trend as well? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you think they just don’t know any better, or they just don’t care?
  • Do you think this is just a side-effect of it being normal to live life out loud publicly on the internet and people just being used to speaking their mind via social media with little-to-no real life consequences?

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Comments & Feedback:Check out what others have to say about this post!

  1. LOVE IT! It is funny how people can get on social media. I’ve had people try to tear me down on social media and say some very unsavory things and I have some of the same questions you do. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers for you. Only that maybe they are really jerks…

    • Angie — Some people just are jerks and there is nothing we can do about that! But I believe by making people aware of how their behavior is perceived could possibly help some people improve their own personal brands and how they are perceived publicly … but that assumes those who need to hear it the most read this post!

  2. Okay, I am totally wondering who you’re talking about!! I feel like the rubber-necker who’s trying to catch a glimpse of the fender bender :o) I think rudeness is a poor reflection on brand, but considering the recent flurry of posts about people tiring of trying to maintain their facade of Facebook perfection, maybe it was bound to happen. I am sooo glad I haven’t been on the receiving end of a dose of overt rudeness, I am still trying to get over the lack of response from some people when I address then directly…I suspect am I TOO sensitive and I am trying to get over that :o)

    • Mindy — Oh my goodness, I’m not talking about any ONE person in particular, but more the growing trend of careless, tactless communications I am seeing permeate social media platforms. The profanity by business owners is terrible, but what’s worse is the profanity and inappropriate conversations by the employees who represent brands and businesses … isn’t anyone watching what their employees are posting?! It’s one thing to post it when no one knows where you work, or your account isn’t affiliated with a brand … I get it. But I don’t get it when the account is affiliated with a brand or business.

      And don’t worry about not always receiving a response when you reach out to others … it happens to me too sometimes … and from what I hear from friends and peers, it happens to them too! Hmmmmm, maybe there needs to be a class on social media manners taught in school!

  3. Jennifer, this is an awesome and provocative post. I think that for some, being “authentic” has become an excuse to abandon common courtesy and behaviours. For some, “bad ass-ery” is part of their brand, and the torpedoes be damned. And then for some, this quote applies” “Be yourself is about the worst advice you can give to some people.” I have certainly lost respect for some well known people in the business and marketing coaching profession who feel they have license to call out or be outright rude with their rants. I suspect that it does lose them business, while it may gain some admirers from some crowds. I have often wondered what some of these people are like in real life. Social media allows anyone to create an image – here’s a post I did earlier this year on that topic. Bottom line for me is that I wouldn’t write something I wouldn’t want my grandmother to see – and I always do my homework when I am hiring a professional. I know that my web presence stands up to scrutiny and I recommend my clients to follow the same Golden Rule –

    • Sherri! THIS –> “I think that for some, being “authentic” has become an excuse to abandon common courtesy and behaviors.” AMEN!

      Never post anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper, as every post you make is a reflection of who you are.

  4. Jennifer, I’m happy to report that I haven’t had any interactions with jerks on social media. But, in line with your topic about being aware of how your status updates affect your brand, what I do encounter OFTEN, are those who are negative and complainers. People who blame outside circumstances for their lack of work, or constantly report on their illness of the day. Who wants to hire a complainer of someone who is always sick and complaining about it? I think this article applies to them as well, so I hope when I share this, the people who need to see it, do!

    • Jessica – Ugh! The complaining, poor me, feel sorry for me, my life is so terrible posts drive me crazy! I get it that sometimes you have a bad day, or something bad happens, or someone ticks you off, and your instinct is to open Facebook and post a rant or complaint …

      I’ve done it a time or two when something hits that pet peeve nerve just right … and did it make me feel better? No. It just made Brian cringe!

      Yes, I do break my own rules sometimes because I am human, and others will too … but I do think that’s different than the perpetual “poor-me” whining!

  5. I’m with Jessica, sometimes there are social media “shares” that are a little bit too much whining, but what I think about that is that as people are IRL (in real life) they also tend to be in the virtual world of social media. Do you think so?

    • I think a lot of people behave similarly to how they are in real life (not everyone though), but that the barrier of the Internet amplifies their bad behavior. They may say the same things online as they do in person, but they are more frank, more brutal, more blunt online, whereas in person, they would more than likely be nicer about it!

  6. Jennifer I guess we are either the pioneers of social media or the guinea pigs depending on how you look at it! We live in such an interesting time re social media and technology don’t we? It’s all very Warholian! Let us know if you get any answers!

    • Elaine – We are pioneers! We never had to deal with this stuff as kids … we’re all learning and we’re paving the way. We’re making mistakes. We’re seeing the repercussions of over sharing online and being too-transparent, and too-authentic, and too available. We’ve crossed lines, we’ve tried new things … some good, some bad.

      I for one am interested in how this time will be portrayed and perceived in 50 years … when there is actual data to study about how the “on all the time” influx of technology has affected the world.

  7. Jennifer, I’ve definitely noticed. Both in social media and on blog commenting. It seems to follow a general lack of respect in many areas of life. We interrupt people on as they speak on stage, we talk in movie theaters, we forget to say thank you or please and we’ve completely lost the ability to engage in civil discourse. As professionals, it’s more important than ever to model good citizenship and polite online behavior. Call me Pollyanna, but I think it’s possible. And, thank you for beginning the conversation.

    • Cindy – Agreed! It’s up to us to model the behavior we want to see and set the example. While I love my smart phone, I do often wonder if the advances in technology and the “on all the time” nature of our culture today are really a good thing.

      When I’m sitting on my phone browsing Twitter instead of getting outside and being active, when I see couples at a restaurant who are both on their phones instead of speaking to each other, when I see teens and young adults struggle to carry on a well spoken conversation because they have substituted much of their communication with texting …

      I wonder, was life better when we spoke instead of texted? Was life better when I sent the day outside in the yard instead of catching up on blogs and social media? Was life better when everyone didn’t have a camera phone and the opportunity to “out you” at all times? Was communication more meaningful and personal before there was social media?

      I mean seriously! I wonder how many people haven’t sent a birthday card to anyone since joining Facebook, because a happy birthday on their wall is good enough?


  8. Jennifer, anytime you write about the power of personal branding you are singing my song! YES! You are what you post and people need to remember that what they post lives on forever in their digital footprints. IMO people are ruder than they used to be in general. If you don’t think so just watch what happens these days when a commercial airliner lands and pulls into the gate. Instead of the courteous letting one row out followed by the next from front to back there is now a stampede to the front from the back. I’ve watched people of all ages and types doing this. So much for chivalry!

    • Mary Ellen — I am cracking up! Brian and I were just lamenting on the ridiculously rude behavior of airplane passengers the other day! We too watched people push and shove and race their way to the front of the plane from the very back the second the plane seat belt sign turned off. The behavior is rude and disgusting really. So much so that it is almost comical!

      As I have always said, one bad post can damage your brand beyond repair in the eyes of the right person. Every single thing you post is a reflection on your brand and how others perceive you.

  9. Jennifer, I didn’t know you had written about this before I wrote my own blog this week! Seems like we have both been feeling it lately…in fact, (again before I read this) I was considering doing a new talk on social media etiquette. Who knew there would be a need to talk about not cursing and trash talking others?!

    I’ve unsubscribed to a few people because they make me crazy with all of their “ugly” behavior. It’s like the quote from the movie Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!”

  10. I made this observation in a LinkedIn discussion and hundreds had stories to share! Yes. Prevalent on social media, but in real life, too! People seem to be genuinely more RUDE in general. Lets start a “nice” club?

  11. It’s amazing how rude people are on social media. When it comes to certain topics, I often don’t read comments on facebook or blogs anymore because there is always an abundance of ignorance and people seem unable to carry on an intelligent conversation anymore.

    I also think the entrepreneurial world is a lot like high school. There are so many insecure people trying to stand out in a crowd that they resort to “shocking” behavior to gain attention. It really is very juvenile. There are definitely other ways to differentiate yourself besides using profanity and acting unprofessional.

    Maybe educators should teach a class on social media in high school. There are a lot of adults who could stand to learn a few things about appropriate social media behavior, as well.

  12. I have seen the trend a lot on Yahoo comments. so much that I have started skipping them. It is kind of funny that those criticizing the blog writer are sooo much smarter and cleverer, but where is their blog? I was reading a professional blog where a person asked for advice and two commenters got into it and hijacked the forum over who had the better advice or who was more self promoting. It finally ended when another commenter brought the conversation back to the original problem the writer was asking about. I would not do business with either of the two snipers. You can certainly disagree with a blogger, but you really shouldn’t get personal.

  13. Jen, good points all around. This has been going on for a very long time. It’s more noticeable when you come from a small pond niche and out into the vast http://www.ocean.

    I worked with a business partner before Wendi, who was very egotistical. Her charm and charisma created a huge following. But behind the scenes, she was very manipulative, and was of a mind that you were either for or against her. And if she felt you were in the “against” camp, she could get downright nasty.

    The whole niche we were in was like that. On the inside, they were all big names, but mention them to the outside world, no one had a clue who you were talking about.

    Wendi and I have both seen Internet Ugly. We’ve seen hundreds of commenting threads go horribly wrong, we’ve seen families torn apart, we’ve seen businesses go up in flames because all it took was one vengeful blog post and harsh words. We’ve seen battles waged that would make the Hatfields and McCoys cringe.

    Yes, the net makes it easy to be a jerk, giving everyone plenty of skirts to hide behind. When you don’t have to speak to someone face to face it’s very easy to put on a mask of false bravado. It’s easy to jump on the mob mentality bandwagon when you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s easy to cut someone down instead of help build them up. It seriously makes me wonder how the generations growing up on social media are going to deal with each other as they become adults.

    Social media kind of makes me think of that movie, The Mask with Jim Carry. Loki’s mask would magnify a person’s traits, good or bad. The ‘net does the same. It brings out the best and the worst in people. Just like any tool, we need to use it with a modicum of responsibility and always, always remember, there are REAL people sitting on the other side of the monitor, with real feelings and real lives. Show some respect.

  14. A few items –
    First specifically on your write up, so many people tell me they will never comment on a blog or on fb to posts as they have had exactly this happen to them every single time when they do comment. It is as if ‘they’ are lurking out there waiting to strike. Someone throws out a comment and then it begins, the tear downs, the nasty remarks, etc.
    Second is to understand that whatever we write or type out, once we hit send, it is out there, forever.
    Third is something I work with High School and College students on is ‘clean up’ your history and what you write and post currently. You risk never getting into the school you want to get into or obtaining the internship or job you would like to have.

  15. Clearly people get confused (or that’s what I’m telling myself) about how to be authentic and professional. I have definitely witnessed more and more complete craziness (beyond bold – pretty much filth) on social media, particularly FB. However, I wonder if it’s more of an audience problem than a ‘post-er’ problem because it does seem as though people eat up the Crazies.

  16. Wow, this is quite the conversation! I must be living in a bubble, because my social media experience has been pretty tame so far. While I’ve experienced the odd whiner and complainer, easily and politely put into place (and then banned, lol), I haven’t had to deal with any jerks. Yet. It’s been one big happy Lovefest for me so far! Fingers crossed that this trend continues… =/

  17. The DELETE button is our friend. We have the power to vote with our fingertips, and the energy and attention we give to people will affect how much airtime and space they have on social media. Be rude on my FB, Pinterest or Twitter and you are gone. I live in a Be Friendly Zone.

    That may be pollyanna-ish, but on-line, its my world and I get to shape it how I want to read it. That’s just the way it is. And in reality, that is how it is for all of us. We have a lovely ability to hide and mute jerks. Too bad the real world isn’t like that as well. :)

  18. I love that you decided to touch on this topic. It’s amazing how many people float around social media without understanding that this is the internet and whatever you say is basically here forever. And can be used against you on a whim. If something bothers me or riles my feathers, I usually just don’t say anything because I never want someone to come across my social media and think, “what a jerk/insensitive person/whatever.” I feel like most the people that troll like this are either on the internet way too much for the wrong reasons (insecurity, etc.) or are just totally ignorant about how to use social media.

  19. Jennifer, I agree with every bit of it! I was, too, once the random tweeter and posted very irresponsible, weird stuff which I really shouldn’t have posted them but agree with you that it happens, and it happens all the time when you are on social media sites with no reason and want to poke into everything You Think people will like.

    The use of one Tweet, one Share, one FaceBook update is a responsibility. Give something with every share/tweet to your followers, potential-followers who yet to follow you not to look really like a fool. Sticking with only your industry will burn some out.

    Get more in touch with the people, admire every time anyone shares your updates to pose a good of you.

  20. I personally think that social media is – all its obvious benefits aside – degenerating people mentally and cutting out face-to-face communication from our daily lives.

    You see it every day all around you – people sit at home, watching the screens of their computers or whatnot instead of physically communicating with their friends.

    This whole situation is abnormal and has taken a turn for the worse in the last decade with the advent of Facebook, smartphones and other little devices.

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