5 Tips for Using Your Online Presence Wisely

Lately I’ve been listening to the podcast “Reply All“–short documentary audio stories about the internet (part of Gimlet Media, the new podcast network founded by This American Life and Planet Money ex-producer Alex Blumberg.) A recent story I heard featured a young woman who did something really stupid. She and her friend would go around to signs and take pictures in front of the sign doing the opposite of what the sign says. Just silly stuff. One day they were visiting the Arlington National Cemetary and one of the girls took a photo of herself yelling and flipping the bird in front of a “Silence and Respect” sign. They posted it to Facebook, thinking nothing of it. Eventually, it went viral and she started getting hate tweets, death threats, hate email, etc. Within a day, a Facebook page was created as a campaign to have her fired. She eventually DID lose her job, was ostracized, developed depression and insomnia and was afraid to leave her home for a year. It took $200,000 worth of pro bono work from Reputation.com and nearly 2 years for her to get a semblance of a life back. All over a stupid Facebook pic.

But there are more stories like that–stupid or silly posts people make over a public platform, then it comes back to haunt them years later. Trevor Noah, the replacement for Jon Stewart to host The Daily Show, was criticized for stupid tweets he made going back to as far as 2011. He was a new comic trying to be funny. Now 2-4 years later, he’s having to deal with it.


We’re living in a new age of communication and connection where your life is online and everything you say and do can 1) be transmitted around the world in minutes and 2) it will live there…FOREVER! In this age of communication ubiquity and longevity, you HAVE to be wise when using social media. Especially if you’re a small business. So unless you’re Howard Stern or Madonna, here are five suggestions for how to use your online presence wisely.

1. Have separate accounts for business and personal

I think the #1 thing you should do is have separate accounts for social media interaction for your business and you as an individual. The Twitter account where I am most active is the one I use for this blog, @DareDreamerMag. But @RonDawson is my personal Twitter account (which I rarely use).  On Facebook, ideally you should use a Facebook page for your business and your personal Facebook account for friends and family. I started back on Facebook before the advent of pages, so I use my personal FB account for business and personal (I’ve only recently started utilizing my DareDreamerMag page, but I’m planning to rectify this soon). So that’s why suggestion #2 is crucial for me.

2. Establish policies & procedures

You need to establish policies & procedures for how, what, when, where, and why you post on social media. Ideally you should have these written down somewhere, particularly if you have employees who represent you. But minimally you should at least have them in your brain. For @DareDreamerMag, I focus on tweets and retweets of content my followers (filmmakers, photographers, and other professional creatives) will appreciate. The same goes for Instagram, Pinterest, Meerkat, and any other platforms you use. Remember that everything you post online is a reflection of your brand (both business and personal). One of your policies needs to be suggestion #3.

3. Don’t use social media (or other public forums) as platforms for personal arguments

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Facebook posts of people lambasting, attacking or calling out other people; sometimes for things which are deeply personal. First off, it comes across as tacky. But secondly, you open up yourself to attack also. Just don’t do it. Definitely don’t do it with your business account; and it’s advisable not to do it with your personal one either. There are times when picking up a phone and talking to people is the best course of action.

4. Maintain smart password, security, and permission policies

Back in the fall of 2008 when I was filming The Longest Day (an online reality TV series for and about pro photographers), two of the photographer cast members played a funny practical joke on me. I was logged into Facebook, and when I wasn’t looking, they replaced my profile pic with a picture of a shirtless guy trying to lick his nipple. I started getting these tweets like “Um, Ron, I think your Facebook was hacked.” It was a very funny point in the show (which is why I left it in). But it underscores the importance of not letting your account get into the wrong hands. Use strong passwords for all your accounts. Use LastPass as a way to manage them all. If you work on public computers and need to log into Gmail, Twitter, or Facebook, make sure the “Remember this computer” check-box is NOT checked. And if Chris Becker or Dane Sanders are ever near your laptop, watch them like a hawk! 😉

5. Remember that nothing is “private” online

I like to assume everything I write online or send via the interest will some day be public for everyone to see. Whether I write an email or post something on a private forum, I ask myself, “If what I’m about to write was some day posted online for the world to see, would I be okay with that?” If the answer is “no”, I don’t write it. Just ask former Sony Pictures president Amy Pascal what she thinks. (full disclaimer: I’m not great at this. I don’t think anyone is. But I try real hard).

What tips do you have for protecting your online brand and wisely using social media?