When sharing can be a bad thing

Crayola 64From a very young age we are taught it’s good to share – whether it’s a favourite toy, crayons or bag of potato chips.

It’s something that we see as a positive influence on a child’s development. As a society we want to encourage it throughout adulthood. The desire to share also makes us less selfish and more connected with our environment and those around us.

However, there are occasions when sharing – or rather ‘oversharing’ – can be a bad or negative thing for both the brands we represent and our own, personal brands.

Consciously or not, we are all sharing far more information online than ever before – there are 571 new websites created every minute; Facebook has over 1 billion users and 500 million tweets are sent every day.

How we tweet - Sharing

People share a lot of information about a variety of things.

To put this into some context, it was only three years ago that people didn’t have iPads, so sharing is now something we all do on the move without thinking about it. As a result, to ‘overshare’ is a natural by-product of the changing digital landscape.

An extreme example of ‘oversharing’ is the now infamous Anthony Weiner sexting scandal in which the U.S. Congressman inadvertently sent a sexually suggestive picture via his Twitter account to all of his followers .

Even messages posted deliberately can be quickly regretted, such as the image GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons posing proudly over the carcass of a dead elephant that he shot for fun when on holiday in Zimbabwe.

Not surprisingly this caused universal condemnation of not just hapless Bob but also of his domain registry company. In fact, it became a Google Hot Topic for all the wrong reasons, drawing attacks from not just from its main competitor NameCheap.com and precipitating a viral campaign organised by PETA, the animal rights group that encouraged consumers to boycott the company.

‘Oversharing’ has also spawned a new product segment of mobile apps with catchy-sounding names such as Last Night Never Happened, Deleteme Mobile’ andTweet Cleaner’ to name a few.

The invasive nature of social media and its ubiquity in every part of our daily lives has started to become a hot legal issue on both sides of the Atlantic where the law tends to lag behind the social media changes happening all around us.

As discussed in my latest book, Essential Law for Marketers, the EU’s General Data Protection Legislation states that personal data must be deleted when the individual withdraws consent or the data is no longer necessary and there’s no legitimate reason for keeping it. But it’s one thing to have a legal right and quite another trying to enforce it.

In reality, the way data spreads or is traded across websites will make it virtually impossible for anyone to insist on being ‘forgotten’. The answer isn’t in legislation but education.

Follow these five basic guidelines to stay socially connected without falling into the trap of social media oversharing:

1. Keep on top of ever-changing privacy settings on your social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter. Watch out for terms and conditions as what you may have considered ‘private’ 12 months ago could now find itself in the public domain;

2. Exercise restraint in what you share on social media as you can’t control who actually sees and will want to act on it;

3. Be aware of what material currently exists about you online, particularly on accounts that are no longer being used, such as old MySpace accounts and online dating profiles;

4. Take control over your personae. Don’t be tempted not to manage and maintain what people know about you in the hope you’ll become ‘invisible’. It’s much better to own domain names and social media handles before someone else snatches them and starts posting in your name; and

5. Protect social media accounts with different passwords. It’s tiresome to recall a random array of letters, numbers and punctuation marks when logging in from everything from your bank account to Google+ account but it will save you from the hazards of ‘oversharing’ in the long-run.

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