Several years ago, I experienced an unpleasant incident where an acquaintance of the family began posting abhorrent statements about me via friends and family’s Facebook pages. The incident stemmed from a perceived slight years before, and I had no knowledge that she even held any animosity toward me. Luckily, the incident was resolved without too much damage when my friends and family deleted her postings. It did make me think, however, about how social media can affect our writing careers.
In April of of 2011, an author’s online rant about a bad review she received turned into a Virtual Witchhunt. Unfortunately, Jacqueline Howett made the grave mistake of firing back profane comments that only fueled the fire in a review that could have gone quietly unnoticed. While Ms. Howett has now gone back and removed her derogatory and profane comments, the damage to her career was done in an instant. Viewers swarmed the sites where her book was posted and left a stack of negative reviews. She has since pulled her book from the market, but the trail of destruction in cyberspace still exists.
So what can we learn from experiences like this? Here are ten things to think about your online presence.
- Combining personal and professional accounts. Your audiences are different. Their expectations of you are different. How you interact with them should be different. Create a separate author account for your social media sites. Keep your personal life personal. Keep your professional life professional.
- Your online photos. Is that picture of you doing the Boot Scooting Boogie on top of the pool table really what you want a potential agent or publisher to see? How about that picture of you at the Christmas party after a bit too much scotch?
- Complaining. You may really feel the need to vent about your job, your agent, your publisher, your bad review, and all the things that distract you from perfecting your novel, but you never know where they will end up. Did you know that Twitter’s posts (tweets) are searchable? Do a search for your name (use quotation marks around your name for better results) and see what comes up. Remember that tweet about the boss’ wife who wore hot pink pants to the office get-together. It could pop up.
- Conflicting information. Your bio says that you have a Masters in Fine Arts from Goddard, so your agent contacts the Program Chair at the school for a promotional quote and the Chair has never heard of you. Oops!
- Unprofessional status updates. You are angry at your publisher, so you vent to your best friends (all 876 of them) on Facebook. Don’t think they won’t hear about it. I once promoted a clothing drive on Twitter that my local office was hosting and corporate office called within two hours because they had seen the company name. They don’t have to be on your friend list. If you use their name, they can find it.
- Embarrassing “Likes”. The great “like” button. We hit it with so little thought. We become fans of everything. Remember that fan club you joined at the suggestion of your friend back in 2009? Seeing Old Fat Shirtless Men Jiggle As They Run Down the Street. Yeah, that one. Your agent just saw it and guess what? He is elderly, over-weight, and not amused.
- Event attendance. The concert was great. The party afterwards was even better. Everyone is talking about it…including your editor because you told them that you were too sick to get finish the rewrites and they extended your deadline until Monday.
- Tag! You’re It! Your friends thought it was hilarious to post that picture of you passed out on the toilet and your cousin just tagged you in a post about cheating your way through college. In both cases, you just lost fans and possibly representation.
- “Controversial” comments. Recently I was tweeting back and forth with a Twitter friend about chicken recipes. I was looking for suggestions and one friend asked if I was cooking a whole chicken. I replied with the single word, “breasts”. I lost 5 fans immediately. Obviously they had not read the whole thread, but you never know what can offend. I have lost fans for mentioning a particular sports team. I have lost fans for saying something derogatory in jest about my dog that had locked me out of the house. Of course, these fickle fans are not really true fans, but it illustrates a point. Things that you do not think will be controversial might create firestorm and things that you hope will get attention sometimes disappear in cyberspace.
10. Security settings. We want our fan pages open to the public so that everyone can access us. You should have your personal pages marked private so that only friends have access. This will not solve all of your problems, but it will eliminate quite a few.
If you are unsure about what your online presence looks like, it is time to clean up. Not all embarrassing mentions online can be removed; they will be floating around in cyberspace forever. But you can do things to prevent future mishaps. Create a Google alert to notify you whenever your name is mentioned online. Search for your name on all major search engines. Consider changing the name on your personal sites to a nickname that only your friends and family will know. If someone tags you in an unprofessional circumstance, ask them to un-tag you. Delete unprofessional comments that appear on your site and ask friends to do the same on theirs. Of course, the easiest way to avoid online embarrassment is to avoid embarrassing behavior in the first place. You need an online presence to create your author platform. Keep it professional.