Digital media

Some writers need a ‘pause’ key to avoid online embarrassment

Whether you’re a Mac or PC, whether you text via Blackberry or iPhone, a handy key is missing.

It could be marked ‘Deep Breath’ to provide an Esc backup before emotion-charged keystrokers tap Enter or Send — a bailout button we all need now and again.

The value of one or several deep breaths is shown by an e-newsletter commentator’s heated reaction to a message questioning an attempt at humor that included a Winter Olympics death-related “quip” and this sexist misfire:

“There are vast numbers of us who would watch Lindsey Vonn rake leaves or wash a car, especially since neither involves a helmet.”

The 60-year-old columnist’s reply from New Cannan, Conn., landed with Outlook’s chime . . . and a harsher, off-key tone of tactlessness. The e-mail changed the topic from a subjective point about taste, which can’t be right or wrong, to a reminder of Online Communications 101: Watch what you say.

Enough suspense — here’s what I got, in full:

I strongly suggest you stop reading my column since it seems to periodically upset your sensibilities. Please feel free to voice your concerns to the editors and management of MediaPost but please do not ever email me directly again. I so DO NOT care about your opinion of my work. GHS

Because it’s not marked private or confidential and involves a commentary at Online Media Daily, I’ve also posted it:

  • In a LinkedIn question for the PR and blogging categories
  • On MediaPost’s Facebook wall
  • In a follow-up comment under the original article

So maybe I’m the one who needs a Deep Breath button.  Actually, two days of inhaling and exhaling have passed already. This is part of audience engagement 2.0 — something I read about and talk about regularly as a communication consultant and social media administrator.

It’s a reminder that brands now are affected by online conversations of all kinds — consumer ratings, SM posts, blog comments and e-mails by outside contributors. Though internal SM policies should also cover non-employees such as my correspondent, the challenge is clear and broad.

“The Internet has opened up the ability of 6.3 billion people on this planet to express themselves. Thus, the structure, organization and management of the message is based on each individual’s perspective,” digital strategist Melih Oztalay of Smart Finds Internet Marketing comments in the LinkedIn discussion.

Here’s how Michigan State University editor-in-residence Nancy Hanus put it during a message exchange:

One great thing about journalism today is you really can’t get away with anything. Too much transparency, and too much feedback and interaction…. Too many people are out there ready to call the fakes and posers on what they are — lazy and people who give the business I love a bad name.

And like it or not, the cat is out of the bag. Journalism is no longer a matter of a few preaching to the unwashed masses. It’s about a communication with the reader.

The takeaway, as we say in marketing communications:

It is your personal or business brand. Watch what you (and others) say.

The spark igniting this is a satiric essay on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, which has this line in the closing paragraph: “All’s well that ends well (unless you are a 21-year-old Georgian luger).”

The reference is to that athlete’s fatal training crash.

 [This  is adapted from my March 14, 2010 posting at EzineArticles.]

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