One Minnesota high school teacher, Michelle Van Bibber of Stewartville High School, decided to teach her students a valuable lesson about over-sharing on social media and how quickly things can go viral on the Internet. The lesson learned that day is one that doesn’t just apply to our younger generations — especially, it concerns working professionals who may not be convinced that their posts could negatively affect their careers.
(Photo Credit: ABC News)
The concept was simple: Van Bibber posted a picture on Facebook of herself holding a sign that requested people to share the photo and put their location in the comments. When Van Bibber asked her students whether they thought the photo would be seen if she posted it, one student’s candid reply was, “I didn’t think it would work because she [Van Bibber] doesn’t have many friends [on Facebook],” according to ABC News‘s article. To Van Bibber’s and her students’ surprise, the photo went viral and ended up receiving 47,385 likes, 217,649 comments, and over 351,000 shares — that’s the beauty (and beast) of things going viral in today’s social sharing, digital age.
It’s not just students who should be taught a lesson or two about social media etiquette, adults should listen up, too. There are far too many professionals who are guilty of committing the same damaging crimes online (like over-sharing intimate details of their lives for all to see). Here are five key takeaways from Van Bidder’s social media experiment that every professional should practice in their everyday lives, in and out of the office.
1. Safety first. Use caution when posting impulsively about your day-to-day happenings or emotions online, because you never know who’s watching and keeping tabs. One wrong post could be extremely detrimental and embarrassing for yourself, your family, your friends, and your future. Think before you speak, folks.
2. Put a filter on it. Nowadays, it seems as though the mentality online is, whoever can say the most controversial or offensive thing, wins — but why? Do yourself and others a favor and abide by the age-old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Because, really, does demoralizing other people online award you some sort of terrific prize in real life? Yeah, we didn’t think so.
3. Less is more. If there were ever an appropriate place to over-share intimate things about your life and your raw emotions, it isn’t online. Not to say your emotions aren’t important, not everyone wants to hear about them every second of every day, that’s all. When you feel the urge to hop online to update the world for the tenth time during lunch, take a step back and consider how your posts could be interpreted as self-absorbed and desperate. Not a good look for a grown adult with a career, eh?
4. Quality over quantity. This continues with number three above; post content that is going to leave your followers happier, more inspired, or better of than they were before. It’s okay to share things online, but it’s best to offer something of substance to yourself and your followers through your posts. Much like how spam mail clogs up your email and annoys the living daylights out of you, meaningless and self-absorbed posts in news feeds are just the spam you filter through to get to the good stuff on your social profiles. Be the change, people. Be. The. Change.
5. Plan for the future. A good rule of thumb when posting online is to imagine your posts being read out loud to a room full of your esteemed colleagues and superiors. Would you be embarrassed if someone read them your incessant rants about the idiots you work with? Yeah, probably, so don’t do it in the first place. Remember, the Internet is forever and it only takes one careless post for you to seriously screw up your future.
A great example of how a post can go viral is with the (now) infamous picture of the white and gold, or was it blue and black, dress. As it turns out, the dress is actually blue and black (there’s some science behind the explanation), but it sure did break the Internet for a minute, there. Even the girl who posted the original photo on her Tumblr account was taken aback by how quickly the picture spread across the world — after all, it’s clearly just a picture of a white and gold dress. (Shhh… just go to sleep now).
The lesson to be learned is to think before posting intimate details about your life online. In her interview, Van Bidder forewarned her students that, “[S]ome decisions that we might not think through now could potentially harm us in future endeavors — like the chances of getting into a specific college, or getting a job.” This is a lesson all of us should take seriously.
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