We live in a world where a single word…a whispered utterance under your breath…a tweet sent on a whim….can destroy your life.
Even a comment made in jest can bring a promising career to its end.
Maybe it’s deserved. Perhaps not. But when the viral judge and jury get their hands on the case, you’re doomed.
Death is fast and sudden…like the deadly whoosh of a guillotine.
Consider American social media strategist Scott Bartosiewicz, who worked for New Media Strategies, a firm that handles social media for big corporates. When in Detroit, Scott was irritated by the bad driving he experienced and sent this tweet:
‘I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f*cking drive.’
Unfortunately, poor Scott wasn’t signed into his own personal Twitter when he clicked send. He signed into his client’s account…and his client was Chrysler, the main car manufacturer in Detroit.
That one-sentence tweet ended his career in milliseconds.
Or consider comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who was the voice of the Aflac duck. Gottfried was well-known for his line-crossing humour, but that background didn’t seem to help when he made the following joke on Twitter after the tsunami in Japan:
‘Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.‘
A joke in poor taste? Sure. But a career-ender?
For Gottfried, this tweet marked the end of his since Aflac was the largest insurer in Japan.
Or perhaps you remember ol’ Natalia Kills.
A popular-ish pop star who made it onto the X-Factor as a judge. Her tenure lasted all of a single episode after she described a lackluster contestant as being ‘cheesy’, ‘a laughing stock’ and ‘disgusting’.
She and her fellow judge and boyfriend Willy Moon were promptly sacked…
…And she’s gone as far as changing her name to Teddy Sinclair to dodge the infamy that’s followed her since that day.
The modern minefield
These examples mark the birth of a new era…where words matter more than ever…and more importantly, there’s no such thing as ‘off the clock’.
You could be a celebrity or a student or a businessperson or a politician. It doesn’t matter. What you do at any hour of the day can affect your professional life.
In many cases, it can spill over to your spouses, siblings or children.
Just as joint-puffing Elon Musk…or rugby star Israel Folau. It’s a cutthroat world out there.
And since nothing on the Internet ever truly disappears…you can be held accountable for what you’ve said years ago.
In fact, when I studied business in uni, one of my professors warned us that our Facebook posts, our Instagram stories, our Twitter feeds all mattered more than our CVs do. He feared that a stray comment or an embarrassing photo could void the thousands of dollars and years of our lives that we had spent in our academic careers.
He recommended avoiding posting same-day. He said that it’s a good idea to sleep on every single thing you post. Photos at parties. Photos with alcohol. Posts about current events. Opinions on divisive topics. Don’t put it in writing…because then it never goes away.
If you don’t, years down the road, some recruiter will be doing a background check on you and see things that might knock you out of contention.
What’s the solution here?
Completely opting out of social media altogether? Maybe. I know many people who have gone that route…
But as social media becomes more and more ingrained in our culture, it becomes more and more expected to be on social media.
Not being on social media becomes a red flag in itself.
Personally, I believe my professor’s advice was right on. Be cautious about your digital footprint…but don’t feel like you should avoid social media outright. Just be smart about it.
From an economics perspective
There’s an unseen consequence of this new reality.
People who may have been huge contributions to society have had their careers cut short prematurely.
Consider Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. He founded one of the most successful clothing brands in recent history by tapping into a niche ‘athleisure’ sector. Lululemon’s clothing is yoga-esque…but work for just about any situation.
(Full disclosure: Your editor is currently wearing Lululemon head to toe. I’m somewhat of a fanboy.)
As the company grew in popularity, a dilemma began to form. Much of the clothing is made of a stretchy material called Lycra. It’s very form-fitting, yet forgiving…to a degree.
At some point, the material can be stretched beyond its design…giving it an awkward-looking, semi-transparent appearance.
The solution, of course, is simply to wear clothes that fit…and don’t try to squeeze into leggings that are five times smaller than your size.
In response, Chip made a comment that cost him the whole $2 billion business.
‘The thing is that women will wear seatbelts that don’t work [with the pants], or they’ll wear a purse that doesn’t work, or quite frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it.’
Despite being a business designed for women, made by women, and managed by Chip’s primarily female executive team…the masses responded by claiming that Chip was misogynistic.
He was promptly pushed out of the business altogether by the board.
His own business.
And despite having ideas and vision for growing the business from $2 billion to $6 billion…that comment cost Chip his job and stalled Lululemon’s growth for an almost five-year plateau.
Growth potential squashed.
And how many times does that happen these days? Where potential and success are quelled because social media deems a comment ‘too much’?
Are we costing ourselves as a society…and lining ourselves up for a future of fear?
Or are we raising the bar of what society deems as ‘acceptable’ and forging a new generation of the politically correct?
Let me know what you think! Reach me at [email protected]
Editor, Money Morning New Zealand