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The Public Ramifications of your Private Social Media Accounts

In the world of social media, people who otherwise might not be heard have found a platform for their voices. And while some may see that as unbridled empowerment, both careful navigation and keen discretion should be considered. As Jon Ronson writes in his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, “Its egalitarianism is its greatest quality.” Each one of us can become loved (or not-so-loved) overnight on social media. Although we revel in others liking our posts and tweets, even individuals with a positive standing can take a downturn.

Justine Sacco is a perfect example. One moment she’s tweeting what she considers jokes to her small circle of Twitter followers about the travelers on her flight; the next, her comments send her reputation into a tailspin. By the time her flight landed, she found herself at the center of a social media storm and dismissed from — and here’s the irony — her PR job.

The best course of action is to take social media seriously as a platform (even if you’re looking to develop a fun persona), and to understand the responsibility that comes with having an empowered voice.

Below are some helpful considerations for navigating an online presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and beyond.

Who is your audience?

In most cases, our audiences will be our friends and acquaintances, particularly if we’ve kept social media accounts private or haven’t gone out of our way to amplify our own content. In this case, it’s probably safe for us to think, “My friends will like this!” because we’re probably right. These are social circles you move in and understand. But some of us hold a social presence that far extends this private reach, and thinking that your friends will or won’t like your content is potentially irrelevant. It’s much more difficult for us to think about the macro impact of our views than it is within close groups. This is where it’s important to consider whether your content is suitable for a potential global scale, because we really don’t have that viral formula down yet. We could be the next social heroes, but there’s a fine line between hero and villain.

You are a brand!

On social media, we’re essentially our own brand, and anything associated with an individual is like a partner company. The farther your social reach, the more people see this as fact. The more people see this as fact, the closer your associated school, university, workplace, etc. are seen as reflecting your views. Of course, we may think it’s not the case because of the disclaimer all views expressed are my own, but unfortunately that doesn’t cut it. Think of yourself as your own personal brand manager and carefully consider the messages you want to convey.


We’re hard-wired to dislike dishonesty. So imagine hundreds or thousands of others seeing something where we slipped up or posted something that didn’t come across as intended. Deleting such content won’t do the trick — screenshots can be taken and retweeted with a much greater speed and reach than you might imagine. Transparency and owning your actions are a huge part of successfully operating a Twitter handle — not just for celebrities who say something a little out of line, but for everyone. In fact, there’s a hashtag calling for apologies simply called #apologize.

Think before you tweet/post/reblog

It’s straightforward advice, yet remains stubbornly hard for us to implement as we work to grow our social presence. We wouldn’t go around saying whatever came to our minds immediately in daily life without some consideration; we wouldn’t have much of a social life if we did. But an easy rule of thumb would be to stop and consider whether we’d like any given individual to see our content. If we conclude that we probably wouldn’t say that to so-and-so, then it shouldn’t be posted. Social media is a shared space for everyone; as such, we should aim to be respectful.

When used properly, your social media accounts can be a wonderful way to maintain communications with family and friends and make connections with individuals you’d like to know. Proper adjustments to your pages’ privacy settings are a must, as is a good dose of common sense. Remember that old adage that warned not to put in an email anything you wouldn’t want published in the local paper? The same general wisdom holds true on social media.

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