‘Everyone’s watching.’ This was the closing line in an article I read recently, written by a physician about his approach to and attitudes towards his online behavior. Though there are definitely certain aspects that are specific to professionals in the medical field, and a great deal of it is subjective as he says, I feel there are also many universal truths in statements made about what is ‘professional’ or ‘unprofessional’ online behavior, no matter what field you are in.
With the rise of Facebook and other social media platforms, many of which are used as a means of connecting with other professionals in certain sectors, also comes an exposure to potential clients, customers or business associates. In fact, this is for many of us the goal in expanding our online presence. Getting our name out there, making people aware of our existence. However, as the good doctor says, ‘We just need to be smarter than we were before. Everyone’s watching.’
I have seen a lot of heated arguments, the careless tossing about of insults, and have watched emotionally charged battles being waged on translation forums, be they on Facebook or LinkedIn (and I’m sure many other online platforms), in the last couple of years. I have witnessed contests of will, conscious attempts to create, develop and uphold a specific online persona, posts often designed to shock and awe, and others designed to intimidate others into submission. I’ve observed countless bragfests where one-upmanship is the rule rather than the exception. Hurt feelings and bruised egos abound. People inevitably start siding with one another, sometimes resulting in them leaving groups en masse, and forming others. I suppose clique formation and behavior is something that we never really leave behind on the playground, or in the halls of our high schools, it is something that we continue to exhibit throughout our lives; obviously it’s just human nature.
What I can’t wrap my head around is that a lot of these people, those ‘shouting the loudest’ and protesting too much on these forums don’t seem to realize first of all, that their ‘victims’ are human beings, just like them, not just a photo with some words trailing behind it. Many of whom are also just starting out in the business, just like they once did, perhaps at a time where there was no public, instantly accessible place to moan, vent and share experiences. And learn from those who have been at it longer. How soon we forget. How easy it is to judge someone’s abilities, skills and personality by a couple lines they may have posted when they weren’t at their best, hadn’t had enough coffee, had just (who knows?) lost someone they loved, or a pet. Or been through a nasty break-up. The judgments are easy to sling, because you can just chuckle to yourself, step back from your computer, and go have another coffee, choosing to ignore any blowback, or simply leave a group because someone has pushed you too far. Or perhaps you do as I often do, ‘avert your eyes’ and stop reading posts on certain forums because they are too negative, pessimistic and just downright unproductive.
Secondly, the way we treat other people online aside (or maybe not?), I can’t help but wonder if everyone realizes what kind of a reflection this behavior is on their professional reputation, how they come across to potential customers, or others they may end up working with in some capacity? I personally wouldn’t hire half of the people I regularly see on these forums, based on their online behavior alone. Sure, they may be the absolute BEST in their field, in their language combination, in their area of specialization, but what about communicating with or dealing with them regarding aspects of the business that don’t involve their professional skills? How will they take criticism, if warranted? How volatile will they be in a dispute? How ‘human’ are they capable of being? Because after all, it’s not just our skills that matter to our freelance businesses, it’s also our ability to be professional, communicate effectively, be diligent about deadlines, capable of taking constructive criticism (if it’s justified, and refute it with substantiated arguments if it’s not), and, well, just plain being HUMAN.
There are of course people who don’t care how they come across to others online, don’t mind who they insult, insisting that this is who they are, take it or leave it, at least they’re honest. Unfortunately, many will choose to leave it, and if you have plenty who don’t, people who accept it and even embrace it, well, more power to you I say. And good luck.
Sure, I’ve been guilty of using Facebook as Ventbook now and then. But I have been careful, while posting, to consider who could be seeing it, and whether or not it will negatively impact my professional life, my business, my livelihood. I still make ‘rookie mistakes’, posting bits about frustration with certain customers, or certain jobs I have agreed to take on and later regret, and later wish I hadn’t posted. Let’s just say I’m working on it.
I try to instill in my sons the knowledge that whatever you post online is there forever, one way or another. It’s your ‘digital footprint’ and unfortunately, an indelible one, in theory. Sure, maybe not everyone will be able to access it, but you never know who might be seeing it, now or five years down the road, such as a potential employer, for example. I try to live by the motto, ‘Don’t post it if it’s not something you wouldn’t say to everyone.’ I admit, sometimes it’s hard to follow this advice myself, but I am making more and more of a concerted effort to live by the words I preach in the sermon to my kids.
It’s easy to sling mud or kick over someone else’s sand castle in cyber space. Just try to think who might be watching next time you do. Your professional reputation is at stake.