What a Total Jerk on Twitter Taught Me About Online Brand

The subject of creating a personal brand online fascinates me, not least because I see so many people making a total hash of it by the inane things they post on Facebook, Twitter, blog replies, and to a lesser extent, LinkedIn.

But recently I had such a powerful personal example happen to me, that I feel compelled to share it with you. This small Twitter exchange taught me a huge lesson in how quickly "Brand You" can be harmed by inappropriate online behaviour.

You see recently I was shocked to read a tweet which, frankly, made a very disparaging remark, directed at me!

TweetDeck advised me I had several "mentions" overnight, and I glanced through them, smiling at some banter with followers, until I struck the tweet that, for reasons still unknown to me, took a personal shot at me, by name. Look, it wasn't a vicious remark. But it was personal, it was negative, it was totally unprovoked and of course, it was very public.

Now if this has not happened to you, I can confirm it is an unpleasant experience. The comment was untrue. So it rankled! I obviously clicked on the perpetrator's Twitter page and found that I had never even heard of the guy! Never had anything to do with him in the real world or the online world. Nor was his comment in response to any tweet of mine. It was not even directed to me, but to a third party, about me.

His LinkedIn page and revealed he holds a nothing-job in a widely unrespected company. I was not sure if this made me feel better or worse! I racked my brain as to why this stranger would attack me, publicly. I won't lie to you. It stung. However after about 10 minutes I started to lose interest and decided not to respond in any public way. I resolved to forget about it.

But that's when it got really interesting. Over the next few hours my Twitter stream and DM inbox (Direct Message) began to fill up with fellow tweeters who took great umbrage at the remark this guy had made. I had at least 10 in a single day, and the theme was, "Who is this guy?" and "Who does he think he is" and more specifically, "What a rude jerk" and, interestingly, "I will never use him or his company again."

One follower, who I do not know personally at all, and only vaguely remember as an online friend, had done his research on the "offender" and Direct Messaged me to say that he was amazed this guy was in the advertising industry "because he has no idea of how to manage his personal brand."

And it was that remark that struck me hard. In a flash, I realized that it was not MY reputation that had suffered as a result of this online rudeness. It was the reputation and brand of the person who made the remark that had taken a huge hit. Just one tweet provoked such an active response from my followers, all echoing disapproval. The question is, how many people read that tweet and thought "idiot"?

And so the lesson was learned -- by me, if not by the person who chose to hurl cyber-insults. Online, we are what we write. In real life we can make a risqué joke to close friends because they "know" us and take the joke in context. In real interpersonal situations we can pass the odd sarcastic comment, accompanied by a smile, and the receiver feels no hurt because there is context and history, which makes it ok and appropriate. Dropping in the odd swear word while chatting with like-minded buddies does not raise an eyebrow because it conforms with the group culture.

Online we have no such protection.

All this got me thinking about my own online "brand." I have about 25,000 Twitter followers and get thousands of visitors to my blog each month, but a tiny percentage of those people are known to me personally. Yet many of the rest I have what I consider to be a great relationship with. We reply to each other's tweets, we DM, we offer advice, and we share good-humored banter as well as seriously useful data. We pass on knowledge freely, and even do business together.

I thought about how I viewed these people. I have an image of them, they have a "brand" with me based on their tweets, their humor, the quality of their information and their online generosity. And that "brand" or "reputation" is as real as if I had met them. And I will make decisions to trust them and buy their services based on the brand they have built up with me online, over time.

So the lesson is this. Consider "Brand You" before you tweet how many beers you sank on Saturday night. Consider "Brand You" before you use gratuitous profanities online. Consider "Brand You" before you post that heavily politicized or semi-pornographic video on your blog spot, after months of building up credibility as a professional.

And of course, consider "Brand You" before you hurl insults at people who might actually have a stronger online brand than your own.

This blog first appeared on The Savage Truth