Weiner: You can’t put the tweet back in the bird

Rep. Anthony Weiner learned the hard way that you can’t put the tweet back in the bird. Media guru Shel Holtz used this phrase when he spoke to the staff of United Methodist Communications a couple of years ago, and it’s been proven time and again.

Setting aside the obvious celebrity syndrome, narcissism and “what was he thinking?”¬† questions, there are important media lessons to be learned from Rep. Weiner’s downfall.

First, know the technology. Social media provides us the feel of the personal and local. But it’s neither. Every post is not only public. Once online, it’s available to a world of viewers and it’s archived for all time. Scrubbing past indiscretions is extremely difficult and all but impossible for most of us. Rep. Weiner’s attempt to delete a Twitter message was as naive as it was futile.

Second, social media require a strategy. Because they’re a powerful communications tool, using these media casually without thinking through why you’re using them is like jumping into a race car and speeding off without knowing how to drive it. A crash is very likely. Weiner¬† obviously did not consider how his Twitter use could affect his career. He had no strategy.

Some use social media to stay in touch with a small group of friends. Some use it to share information of interest to a target audience. Others create conversation by being provocative, and some advocate for their causes and build networks of like-minded believers. It’s important to know why you’re using social media and to stick to the strategy, or at least to think through a new strategy if you decide to change.

Third, there is no local anymore. Social media contain an oxymoron. If you communicate well locally, you will likely be successful, but no communication on the web is local. It’s global. A private message to a friend can be sent around the world with a keystroke.

Fourth, social media are personally empowering but not private. Some users are comfortable revealing personal details (albeit not as personal as Rep. Weiner, I hope). But these details are not private once they’re on a Facebook page or a service such as Twitter. We should not be misled by the feel of the personal when we use these media. We’re potentially communicating to a vast audience, some of whom are not necessarily friends.

This is another oxymoron. While they empower us to reach out beyond our immediate geographic community, they can also bring us down because they’re transparent. They can expose our inconsistencies and hypocrisies. This built-in quality of transparency¬† demands consistency, if not authenticity. If we make false claims or behave in ways inconsistent with values we have espoused, somewhere, somehow, someone will expose the falsehood or inconsistency.

Rep. Weiner seems to have stumbled not only ethically but also in his use of media. And now we refer to him as former Rep. Weiner.

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