Your brand is you, online or off – look after it

“We have all become celebrities in the digital age,” says Emma Sadleir, a social media lawyer and specialist speaker at an Investec event for young professionals. “We need to look after our personal reputations.”

Your online persona should reflect your offline personality. If you’re a gregarious and outspoken person, that should reflect on your social accounts. If you’re reserved and private, you would probably keep social media activity to a minimum.

Either way, you are not speaking one-on-one or to a small group, but to a potential audience of millions. And you don’t have to be a celebrity to entice a backlash. One irresponsible post may cost you your privacy, reputation or entire business or career.

As a TV presenter, model, media entrepreneur and Investec Private Banking brand ambassador, Maps Maponyane is very active on social media. “I use social media to grow my own brand,” he says. “I try to not make mistakes that would hinder that growth.”

Here are some points to keep in mind before you post that racy pic or let forth with a rant on a social network.

1 The internet never forgets, ever

Your sexy selfies don’t self-destruct. Once you post something online, it pretty much lives in the ether forever, even if you delete the post.

A selfie on Instagram, a post on Facebook, an opinion on Twitter, a video clip–even a chat in a closed WhatsApp group–may go viral and come back to haunt to you. It may be come back immediately or a few years down the line.

2 Think twice before tweeting

“If you wouldn’t put it on a billboard next to a huge photograph of your face,” says Emma, “don’t just not put it online, don’t let it exist in digital format.”

When you are angry or upset, you are probably not in the best frame of mind to post. Before you blast away on social media, wait until you have cooled off and can give a rational opinion.

3 Keep it real, keep it consistent

“The beautiful thing about social media is that everyone now has a voice,” says Maps. However, he advises that you maintain a positive and consistent brand voice and point of view.

“I try to make sure that I have an informed opinion,” he adds. “Don’t put anything there that is not factual because you set yourself up for a lot of backlash.”

However, Emma says we shouldn’t fear social media because of negative connotations. “Social media can be used to your personal benefit if you use it correctly,” she says. “I know that if I go for a job interview tomorrow that I’m much more likely to get the job than not because of my social media accounts.”

4 Read the fine print

Emma advises that you educate yourself about the social policies for every social platform to which you post. “Who owns the content?” she asks. “How much control do you have?”

It may be boring, but read the terms and conditions as well as the privacy policies of the most popular platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Don’t rely on default settings on social media. Configure your accounts to strengthen your security and privacy.

5 Broaden your media horizons

Social media, as much as it connects us to the world, can be isolating. We often only see posts and opinions that correspond with our own personal views of the world. However, this complementarity of opinions can be manipulated or exploited in the age of big data.

Read diverse magazines and newspapers, watch different news channels on TV or via streaming broadcasts, and attend thought leadership seminars.

A single viewpoint alone can offer a narrow frame of reference, but perspective widens and expands to reveal the bigger picture.

6 Be a good digital citizen

When online, we all have a certain level of anonymity or at least feel we’re commenting from a safe distance. That doesn’t mean we can lose our sense of etiquette or basic humanity. Be respectful in online spaces and expect respect in return.

In a world proliferated by fake news, be wary of everything you see and read online. Don’t accept a post at face value.