Gini Dietrich

Especially Online, First Impressions Last Forever

By: Gini Dietrich | July 16, 2009 | 

first-impressionsI was talking to a girlfriend this morning and she said, “I have a topic for your next newsletter!” I love getting feedback from my smart friends, so I was all ears. She suggested we discuss how to blur the personal and professional lines of social media, without looking like a jerk.

I said, “A ha! That’s a great blog topic! Writing it right now.”

Let’s start with the fact that, if you’re graduating from college or looking for a new job, potential employers always look at your social networks FIRST…before they decide to call you and schedule an interview.  Knowing that, are you immediately embarrassed as to what they might find? If the answer is yes, fix it. Fix it NOW!

Now think about the business relationships you have. Are you friends with them on Facebook? Do they follow you on Twitter? If they don’t yet, they will. Are you representing yourself, both personally and professionally, in the very best light possible?

I’m a communication professional and, by the nature of the beast, have a lot of friends who are reporters. I hear HORROR stories of how PR people treat reporters. Just a month ago, I had a Wall Street Journal reporter tell me that she is astounded that PR people never return her phone calls. I mean, it’s just the Journal; why would you want to return her calls?

Whenever someone tells me something like this, I always say, “I love it when other PR people make us look good.”  If you work at Arment Dietrich, you’d be fired, on the spot, for not returning phone calls or emails within 24 hours.

That being said, I have a reporter friend who told me he was trying to reach a PR person for a story he was working on…and he was on deadline. This particular PR person refused to answer his phone calls or return his emails. But then, three days after his initial call, she friended him on Facebook. Curious, he accepted the invite and was astounded to see that her page was full of not only business information, but also of her drunk photos from Friday night and, gasp!, swear words!

To make matters worse, he went to her Twitter stream and found that she was running around, playing hooky, instead of returning his phone calls and emails.

He didn’t tell me this, but I’m 99 percent positive he will never want to work with this woman again. She could end up being the CEO of the largest global company and he would refuse to ever include her in a story or write anything nice about her or the company for which she works.

This is a whole new world. How you represent yourself online cannot be any different than you act on your very best behavior. One thing that has not changed, even in this world of constant evolution, is first impressions last forever!

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Another great post on an issue many of us are starting to grapple with – even if you’d like to keep your professional like separate from your personal life it is getting almost impossible to do that.

  • Gini — I was having this conversation again this morning, what you post online stays with you FOREVER. Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want your mother (or Wall Street Journal reporters) knowing. First impressions, whether online or in-person, are the most important. Remember that before you over-share.

  • Dawn R. McKenzie

    This is a great topic that my colleagues and I have spent some time discussing as well. No matter how hard one may try, it is pretty difficult to separate personal and professional online. You share a good example of how online impressions can make or break relationships, influence perceptions and even careers. Online presence could be very positive, but there are many out there who need a reminder about the blurring of these lines and how negative impressions will come back to haunt them!

  • Great post. Baffles me sometimes that in communications, people simply ignore requests. We’re in the business of exchanging information, providing counsel and setting a strategic path for our clients to follow. Just have to find the right balance between business and personal online. You wouldn’t want your grandma to see drunk bar pictures of you so why put it on Facebook for the world to discover?

  • You make SUCH an important point. I don’t know where people get off thinking that when you put something online it’s not available for the whole world to see, but somehow that’s a very common misconception.

    I had to fight this battle myself when I first lost my job — personal or professional? I wiped the slate clean and decided professional is how I need to conduct myself online from here on out, no questions asked.

    People (and especially communications professionals) need to remember that perception is reality, and if you’re putting a negative image out into the world, whether it be on- or offline, you will pay for it.

  • It astounds me when people fail to consider the possibility that people are “listening in” and/or the negative impact that an ill-advised social media post may have. Heck, when I was working, I felt weird posting on Facebook or Twitter if I was home sick for the day — or even if I was on vacation! — because I didn’t want people to think I was at work and goofing off. And when I was sick, I was extra wary about using SM because some people think you shouldn’t be using your computer “for fun” if you’re at home due to illness (which is funny, considering that many of these same people are the ones who think you should be checking your work e-mails and voicemails from home, even if you’re sick). It’s all about erring on the side of caution … especially these days!

  • Gini,

    I have said this over and over again to the clients I work with, and many of them still do not seem to get it! These are not “college kids” they are professionals who are looking for work or looking to change a career. Thank you for writing this! I’ll tweet your post and circulate it throughout my other networks. Maybe they will listen to you…..

    –Dave Isbell, Alumni Career Services Coordinator, Michigan State University

  • So true Gini! When we choose to be active in social media channels, we can’t forget how public our lives become. Clients, professional contacts, our mothers and grandmothers, everyone. Before I hit the post or send button, I take an extra breath, and ask myself – is this ok if its posted on the news tonight? We’re all like celebrities, or presidential candidates now!

  • Gini,

    More great thoughts from you. I struggled with that balance at first on twitter. I wanted to keep everything all business but I know that people do business with people, not companies and remembering that helped me find a better balance. Who you are starts to leak out even if you try to conceal it so you are much better off actually becoming a person others would want to work with than trying to fake it.

    Thanks for sharing this.


  • Gini D. nails it once again. There’s an easy fix to this dilemma. Live with integrity! Then you don’t have to “manage” personal vs. professional.

    Just came up with idea for SM bumper sticker:
    “Be the person your blog thinks you are.”

  • But of course. I think the biggest point you make here is not the online one, but the one that is a non-negotiable to me: Repond to your calls and your emails. not matter what, no matter who. Responsiveness is the most underrated skill in business, the one that we all have in common and the one that will give you the greatest return. Nice post, as always.

  • How different are your online and real life personas at this point anyway. I think we know that most of us go out and drink whether there are photos of it on FB or not. But if you’re supposed to be somewhere else, you can get busted.

    Knowing Gini as an online persona and a business owenr though I think its important to not go too far to the professional side to where you have zero personality. The fine line seems to be, keep your humor in your posts but leave out your embarrassing exploits. Also, if you have certain outspoken viewpoints (pointing finger at self) be prepared to own them if you post about them, and if someone disagrees, you have to live with that.

  • So, do we need to make 2 separate accounts on social networking sites. One professional & one personal

  • Thanks to EVERYONE for your comments!!

    One thing for Nayan…the way I personally handle it is that I have a personal FB account. For those Twitter friends or professional colleagues I don’t know in real life, I send them to the Arment Dietrich fan page. Even though I do have some clients and business associates on my personal FB page, most everyone I push to the business fan page.

    I think the key is figuring out where your own boundaries are and what the perception of you might be, should you be acting differently offline. Take the reporter example – if the woman had returned his phone calls or emails, I don’t think he would have cared what she was doing on Facebook or Twitter. But, because she didn’t, he perceived it as she has plenty of time to screw around, but not to help him with his story…even though it’s her job.

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