Web 2.0 has literally taken the world by storm. Web 2.0 is defined as two-way communication, whereby parties can interact, often in real time, over the Internet. (Web 1.0, by contrast, is defined as one-way communication whereby your company creates a website to share your information, and search technologies make it easy for people from around the globe to find you.)
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, micro-blogs, Skype, texting, digital photography, YouTube and other technologies allow us to communicate in ways previously unimaginable. With mobile devices, we can broadcast when it occurs. The great benefit of Web 2.0 is that anyone can be a publisher of information and the world is the stage. The great danger of Web 2.0 is that anyone can be a publisher of information and the world is the stage.
What makes Web 2.0 so dangerous is that not only can you share information and distribute it on a global scale without the benefit of an editor, but worse, what you say online can be archived and searchable by anyone—forever. Meaning that one online mistake can theoretically come back to haunt you for the rest of your life.
Crazy? Not at all. Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Michael Phelps and other celebrities have all had their reputations tarnished because of what they said or did via technology or what was captured and disseminated about them online. Think it can’t happen to you? Think again. There are countless examples of everyday people who have posted seemingly innocent messages online only to have those messages come back and cause real damage to the individual’s career and reputation. For example:
Did you hear the joke about President Obama? A business executive did and posted the joke to his Twitter account. Pretty funny until the Secret Service showed up at his office because the joke—taken out of the context of being told in person with your buddies at the bar—was viewed as a legitimate threat on the President’s life.
Did you see the photo of the young girl on her Segway pushing her baby carriage across the street? Hundreds of people did and posted vulgar and rude messages about how lazy she was, including posts that “she should die.” The last comment on the blog where the photo was posted was from the young woman’s cousin. He explained that the young lady on the Segway had her legs amputated in an accident, and using the Segway was the only way she could take her new baby out for a stroll. Oops.
How about the woman who answered a Facebook survey asking if she believed in God? The woman answered no. Seemingly innocent. Except that she was a teacher at a religious school and when her supervisor saw her response, she was fired from her job the next morning.
The concept of branding has historically been important only inside the walls of advertising agencies and corporate marketing departments. Companies spend billions of dollars each year to protect and promote their brands. They buy media on the airwaves, in print and online, all with the goal of disseminating their key messages—their brand promises—to potential and current customers.
What is a brand? Quite simply, it’s the unstated promise people believe they will experience if they associate with a specific company and/or product. Coca-Cola’s brand promise is “fun and refreshing.” Nike’s brand promise is “kick-butt on the competition.” Volvo’s brand promise is “safety.” When you think of those companies, those are the images that they want you to have in your mind. They’ve spent billions of dollars to help develop that unstated promise within each one of us.
In today’s information-rich and easy-to-publish world, if you post anything online, then you are disseminating your message to the world and, by default, are promoting your brand—your personal brand. Unlike big companies, promoting your personal brand costs virtually nothing. But unlike big companies where countless hours are spent thoughtfully planning the brand, your personal brand can be broadcast to the world with the simple click of a mouse.
What is your personal brand? If I only know you by your Tweets, blog comments or Facebook posts, what is the unstated promise I believe you represent? What is the unstated promise I believe I will receive if I associate with you?
Does your personal brand complement or conflict with the image you’ve worked so hard to craft in your personal life? Is your personal brand consistent both offline and online? Do you act one way or say things one way in a person-to-person setting, and then say something completely different with your online persona, veiled behind the perceived virtual wall of Web anonymity?
What most people truly don’t understand is that the Web, by its very essence, is not anonymous. The Web, by definition, spreads and grows, connecting computers and people around the globe. Even one-to-one text messages and e-mails can be archived and shared with the masses (what’s stopping me from posting that e-mail that you sent me). There is no such thing as “your online friends group” or “private message boards.” Because once it is in a digital format, nothing is limited and nothing is private.
|Meet the Author
Sam Richter is a speaker and author based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and on the Web at www.samrichter.com.