Don't Underestimate the Power Social Media Communication Has on Your Credibility

Business.com / Leadership / Last Modified: December 15, 2017
Photo credit: mimagephotography/Shutterstock

When you treat each online engagement as a high-stakes, face-to-face conversation, you demonstrate the consistency needed to positively influence others and build the trust necessary for success.

Communicating with consistency is key to earning and maintaining credibility. Whether you are an executive officer or individual contributor, how you communicate affects how others perceive you and determines whether or not they’ll act upon what you have to say.

Many professionals recognize face-to-face, virtual, phone and email communication skills are vital to their influence and credibility; however, many fail to acknowledge social media as having the same power to influence their reputation.

While social media is not a new concept, it has only been used as a source of mainstream communication for about a decade, leaving the rules of engagement loosely defined. Companies still struggle to define guidelines for employee engagement and use both in and out of the office. While many believe that social media creates a secondary identity, too often professionals find their reputation compromised after airing private details, opinions and experiences.

The question becomes how can professionals maintain a strong reputation, earn credibility and still participate in social media? The answer: Apply the same rules of face-to-face conversations to online communications.

1. Listen for intent.  

Before responding to an online call for engagement, understand first what the communicator is attempting to say. If you aren't certain, don't answer. Instead, ask for clarity or move the conversation into a private forum where clarification can be provided without causing further confusion. Since aspects of nonverbal communication are missing from online conversations, it's essential to understand, without doubt, the words and purpose of a message.

2. Choose words wisely.

Because body language, tone, and vocal inflections are absent online, words are left vulnerable and open to interpretation. Too often, people post, only to find themselves the victim of an attack or backlash because the words they chose were misconstrued or misunderstood.

To be certain your message is one you want your readers to hear, draft your post and review it. Ensure the words you've chosen are kind and complimentary, positively acknowledging others or a situation. Avoid posts that are derogatory or insulting in nature. Even a lighthearted jest can be offensive when misinterpreted by an online audience. It's best to remain professional and courteous in all posts and responses.

3. Be clear, concise and correct.

To avoid confusing your readers, ensure your message isn't ambiguous but rather clear and concise. Avoid using industry jargon, acronyms, and language in your social media posts that aren't easily understood by everyone you're connected with. Each post should be relevant, interesting and/or educational.

Avoid vocabulary that can overshadow your message and confuse your audience. Ensure comments are factual, and don't share information that can be questioned for accuracy. Statistics, polls and surveys can be easily misconstrued, so don't leave them to chance. If you're going to share support information, ensure it's factual and easily corroborated.

4. Avoid drama and derailing topics.

Passive/aggressive posts, politics, controversial opinions, anger, and disagreements are certain to cause unnecessary drama and will sabotage your attempts to connect. Any type of criticism or commentary on a sensitive subject can possibly offend your reader. Not only are you likely to alienate a portion of your audience, you'll unwittingly become the source of gossip, drama and unnecessary conjecture.

Save these types of conversations for face-to-face scenarios where nonverbal communication skills can aid in relaying the entire message. Before engaging in any type of conversation that can cause others to question your credibility, consider first if your comment will further the conversation or potentially derail its progress.

5. Leave nothing to chance.

The wrong meme, post, joke, caption or comment can offend those least expected, costing valuable relationships and calling to light the very credibility needed for success. Social media posts almost always lack the full story, leaving the reader to interpret posts and photos through their own personal filter.

Hashtags, a commonly used means of tagging posts to a trending topic, can be a cause for question. While you may have the most innocent of intentions, nothing can be left to chance. Know, without question, what your hashtag stands for, its common meaning and interpretation. Similar to using slang in a face-to-face conversation, it' best to avoid unless it adds specific value.

6. Acknowledge and thank.

Just like acknowledging and thanking others for a job well done, it's vital to do the same on social media. Sincerity is crucial to maintaining authenticity online. A quick "thanks" isn't sufficient; rather, be specific in what you are thankful for. Acknowledge the efforts put forth by those you appreciate and share with the world how you benefited from their efforts. Call a person by name and use language that is easily understood. Recommend them to others to help establish their online credibility as well. By acknowledging the efforts of others, you create an online rapport and establish a trustworthy relationship. 

Your reputation and credibility are yours to earn, protect and maintain. When you treat each online engagement as a high-stakes, face-to-face conversation, you demonstrate the consistency needed to positively influence others and build the trust necessary for success. Pause and consider how each post, response, and comment will affect how others perceive you. If you want to influence others to act upon what you have to say, treat social media communications with the same degree of importance as those that are face-to-face.

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