It is not just drunken selfies that can ruin your reputation in the social networking world. We don’t always realize until it’s too late, certain subtle social media mistakes can hurt your online reputation real bad than you can think. This is especially complicated for thought leaders who hold a respectable and well-perceived position in the social landscape.

The story of Kelly Blazek, published on Cleveland.com is perhaps the perfect example of how a small mistake can ruin your thought leadership position on social media. Blazek is the founder of the Cleveland Job Bank catering to marketing communications professionals. It all started when she sent discouraging emails to Diana Mekota and she decided to share them on social media, which went viral soon enough.

In 2013, Blazek was even named “Communicator of the Year” by the Cleveland Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. She was a thought leader in Cleveland’s marketing communications community and hundreds of people contacted her every month looking for help. But her short sightedness and impatience, not only made her earn the reputation of being unwelcoming, rude and unprofessional but also harmed her thought leadership position. And Blazek had to make a public apology to Diana Mekota to safeguard her reputation.

Thought Leaders Be Careful

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A thought leader is responsible to build a trust between the company and the people, including both the customers and the employees. Being on the forefront of their industry, thought leaders should consistently support and elevate the people. This is where Kelly Blazek failed. She became too impatient and the result was that she lost all the trust that took years to build.

Although such trust is not easy to build, a small mistake can squander it in no time especially those made on social media. Here are 3 social media gaffes that can ruin your standing as a thought leader.

1. Failing to Consider Your Audience

As a thought leader, your audience is the most significant part of your social media strategy. The content you are posting should therefore be in context to what they are looking for or would be interested in. In fact, context is the most important aspect many tend to overlook. This not just include the content you are posting, but the comments made on those by your friends and peers as well.

Let’s take it for granted that thought leaders won’t be posting any offensive or inappropriate content on their social accounts. But what about the comments made by their friends or family or any personal connection? How can you control them?

As a thought leader, you are more than likely to post content in a professional context. But then a friend may post a completely inappropriate comment or tag you in some incongruous post or media content that can rampage your online professional reputation like anything. That’s a really bad news for you.

You therefore need to maintain your demeanor and appearance on social media. That said, we are not asking you to behave in a reserved manner, but it must be something that makes others approach you in a professional manner. Leave no rooms for assumption that you are in a professional context in your social profiles.

This also includes the posts you are sharing, retweeting, or marking as favorites as people can see them all as well. This is what Donald Trump, the candidate for 2016 presidential election, clearly missed and ended up retweeting an image of renowned British murderers Fred and Rose West back in 2014.

This happened when a Twitter follower asked Trump to retweet an image of his late ‘parents’ who considered Trump a big inspiration. While this was an honest mistake, sometimes thought leaders fail to keep your personal life from your professional life, at least in the social landscape. And this brings us to the next social media mistake that can cost you heavily.

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2. Mixing Personal and Professional Life

In the social landscape, the lines between personal and professional lives often get blurred. But when you mix your personal and professional lives, you are invariably going to introduce misunderstandings. While this applies to all professionals out there, it is again especially applicable to thought leaders.

As mentioned in the previous point, all your content including the comments and posts others are tagging you onto in social media must always be in professional context. In other words, you need to keep all your public interaction professional across all your social accounts. Never post anything that you don’t want your audience to know about you, irrespective of your privacy settings.

Never post anything that you don’t want your audience to know about you, irrespective of your privacy settings. Of course you have a wild side, where you prefer to live the way you too, but you don’t really need to share it with the whole world. Such posts usually lead to major social faux pas that you won’t be proud of.

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Rep. Christopher Lee, a married Republican congressman from New York got into trouble when Gawker published emails that Lee sent to women on Craigslist. It all began when Christopher Lee replied to a Craigslist ad in the “Women for Men” section using his personal Gmail account. Worst still, he identified himself in the reply as “a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist” and also send a PG picture of himself. While none of the information was true, his Gmail account confirmed that it was indeed Rep. Christopher Lee sending the reply. In less than four hours after Lee’s PG photo and emails were posted by Gawker, the Buffalo-area representative resigned.

In this age of technology, nothing remains hidden for long especially if you are popular. This means your social media persona is inseparable from your professional persona. You can however create micro social networks to connect with people from specific areas of your life to maintain your privacy. But always make sure you separate your personal spheres from each other especially on social platforms.

3. Lacking Empathy and Failing to Empower People

Empathy is one thing a thought leader cannot lack. We all know that honesty is the foundation of thought leadership. But you need the ability to display empathy as well to reach out to your audience. Just your knowledge about your particular industry won’t make you a sought-after personality; you need to be able to relate to people’s emotions and thoughts as well in order to truly empower your people. That’s when people will look up to you and listen whatever you have to say. As a thought leader, you need to earn your respect and popularity.

Just your knowledge about your particular industry won’t make you a sought-after personality; you need to be able to relate to people’s emotions and thoughts as well in order to truly empower your people. That’s when people will look up to you and listen whatever you have to say. As a thought leader, you need to earn your respect and popularity.

This means, your social content cannot be just about you. You need to understand where your audiences are coming from, see through the façade and put yourself in their shoes before telling them what to do. Let’s consider the example of Kelly Blazek once again. She completely lost her focus (perhaps due to growing professional stress and frustration) and failed to understand where Diana Mekota was coming from. Blazek never bothered to put herself in

Let’s consider the example of Kelly Blazek once again. She completely lost her focus (perhaps due to growing professional stress and frustration) and failed to understand where Diana Mekota was coming from. Blazek never bothered to put herself in Mekota’s shoes. It was only normal for a 26-year job seeker to try and connect with a persona like Kelly Blazek while trying to move back to the Cleveland area. But Blazek clearly lacked empathy and ended up sending some scathing rejection emails instead of empowering her.

Kelly's apology

The good news is, empathy is not a difficult thing to master. It is rather a natural human behavior; all you need to do is listen attentively to people around you. Through your thought leadership position you need to inspire and empower people, serving as a role model. Share not just your knowledge, but also your experience and struggle-stories to shape the thoughts of your audience. Considering the sphere of influence you have over others, encouraging those around is a social responsibility.

Conclusion

As a thought leader you really need to be careful about what you are sharing on social media. There are hundreds and thousands of people looking up to you as their role model and this is a huge responsibility. You just cannot do whatever you want to in the social sphere. Diligence is required. You need to be your best self while maintaining your authenticity. Be strong in your opinion and do take a stand but don’t be rude in the process.

Also, have a strategic plan for the content you post on social media. Make sure your social content is not only in your professional context but also reflects your social reputation properly. Most importantly, never act until you think. This is where many thought leaders went wrong and had to pay a heavy price in terms of their online reputation. And always be thoughtful and empathetic. Remember that you will grow more quickly as a thought leader if you help others who need you.

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Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of Preceptist, a content marketing agency for SaaS businesses.