Digital footprints and social media faux pas

Posted on 29th April 2019 by Lottie Buckley

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While you might pay close attention to the kind of content you post and the image you portray on social media today, can you honestly say that you’ve always been so careful? Chances are, you have one or two cringeworthy posts of old you wouldn’t like to resurface today!

There have been numerous examples of celebrities’ ill-considered and often offensive past posts that have come back to bite them. In 2017, rapper Stormzy faced backlash after homophobic tweets posted in 2011 resurfaced. In response, he issued a public apology, claiming, “The homophobic language I used was, embarrassingly, a part of my vocabulary when I was younger and ignorance made me feel comfortable to use them whilst not understanding the hate and the ramifications they carry. That isn’t an excuse, I take responsibility for my mistakes and hope you can understand that my younger self doesn’t reflect who I am today.” In a similar instance, YouTube vlogger, Jack Maynard, left the I’m a Celebrity jungle when old tweets containing racial and homophobic slurs came to the fore.

While you can delete posts, chances are that they’ve already been seen by at least a few people. And if somebody takes a screenshot and circulates the evidence, the damage can be much more long-lasting. Your social media profiles are a great way to showcase your personality and share your opinions, but over time your personality and opinions can change! While we may not have the scrutiny of the public eye and media on us all the time like many high-profile figures and brands do, there can still be serious consequences, and it’s important to bear this in mind when making anything public. Even if you don’t have a large following, preserving your digital footprint and self-image online is important for your professional life and relationships if nothing else! Whether you have a client-facing role or you’re on the lookout for your next step on the career ladder, it’s important to make sure there’s nothing on your social media profiles that could backfire on you.

As a business however, you are under a higher level of scrutiny from followers and customers and it’s in your best interests to maintain a professional and respectful social media presence. Some brands take a slightly risky or humorous approach to social media and do it really well (take a look at Innocent if you haven’t already!) but there are occasions where companies can get it wrong too and face ramifications. In 2011 in response to a Twitter user who posted a blog accusing Urban Outfitters of stealing artists’ designs without crediting them, the brand opted for a terribly misjudged response; “Hey guys, we see your tweets regarding the I Heart Destination necklace. Please know that our accessories buying team is looking into this.” While it may have intended the reply to be humorous, Urban Outfitters faced a backlash from independent artists and customers, losing 17,000 followers. However, posts in poor taste aren’t always intentional. Following its infamous horse meat scandal in 2013, Tesco failed to cancel a previously-scheduled tweet, reading, “It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay. See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets.” In hindsight, not the best turn of phrase.

As these examples demonstrate, carefully considering posts and maintaining a positive digital footprint is key. Whether you’re updating a business or personal account, think carefully about what message or image your post is likely to give off. Is there a chance your content could land you in tricky situations later down the line? Tread your digital footprint with an err on the side of caution.

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