Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

Hand outstretched, I reached across the aisle to deliver my message.

I fumbled. My note, intended for one person, lay exposed on the floor. My heart pounded. My eighth-grade teacher pounced. “What have we here?” He held the note for all to see. “Surely if this is important enough to send during class it must be important enough for all of us to know.” Dragging out my nightmare, he theatrically cleared his throat, then read the note aloud. “Please find out if he likes me. I need to know before I can talk to him. He’s so cute.”

There was silence, then snickering. I thought I would die. I didn’t, but I learned something important. At any time, in any place, in any situation, you run the risk of humiliation or embarrassment when private information is inadvertently made public.

The risk was there long before the Internet and social media. Now the risk is greater than ever. Facebook posts and Twitter tweets don’t go away. They have lives of their own. They endure long after red faces have faded.

Businesses frequently contact me for social media rules that they can share with their employees. Guidelines shift with business conditions, yet one important factor is always constant. The line between personal tweets and postings and professional personas is blurred and shifting. Postings and tweets made on personal accounts are very likely to reflect on your business – for better or for worse.

News media have schooled us on what happens when photos posted privately show up on YouTube or everyone’s Facebook page. But what about private opinions? It’s a free country and everyone has a right to his or her opinion, right? Yes. And everyone has a right to judge you and your business by the opinions you express on social media.

Think before posting.

There are creative ways to personalize your posts without offending others. Don’t assume that everyone shares your opinions, that they see things the way you see them, that your beliefs outweigh their feelings. Particularly during this presidential election cycle, tensions are high on all sides. The articles and video links you or your employees post to substantiate your opinions may be offensive to others.

The risk can be mitigated by making use of groups to communicate with within different platforms. From the outset, you will know if those in the group are really interested in your opinions, if they really want to discuss politics, religion, pot holes or whatever. You can vent and share views and finger-point without alienating large portions of social media networks.

Those receiving unwelcome postings always include potential customers or clients. They also may include current patrons. Depending upon your postings, their response may be against your business. They may drop you or block you. They may start doing business with people whose opinions are more closely aligned with their own.

People enjoy doing business with people they know and respect. Sharing bits of yourself with others personalizes your business. It builds empathy. It keeps you, your products and your services in the minds of the public. That’s all good. The key is not to over-share or inflict your opinions where they really aren’t wanted.

For the best outcomes, play it safe. Never share or tweet something that you wouldn’t say or do in public. Don’t rely on the general public to separate your personal from your business persona.

As for that cutie I wanted to talk to in the eighth grade. It never happened. After my humiliation, I simply moved on.

I found an even cuter guy.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.

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