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Many of you are active on Twitter. It is a great platform to interact with people across the world, and share thoughts and ideas. Posts spread quickly, and reactions are instant.

This is all good; but sometimes people make mistakes. A wrong message sent inadvertently can, and has, led public figures and professionals fired from responsible positions. Retracting statements and apologies often fail to save.

But then Twitter is indispensable if you want to reach a wide audience in quick time. It has more professional people participating, retweeting, and posting than on Facebook. And it encourages quick exchanges of views than LinkedIn. And yet, you must take care with your tweets. Unlike celebrities or politicians who often have a professional team handling their accounts, most of us tweet on our own. An ill-judged remark can reflect poorly not just on us, but also on the organizations we work for.

And organizations which are anti-corporate seize such moments and broadcast them widely. If you are in a leadership role, you need to be even more careful. For instance, Tony Hayward, the boss of BP during the oil spill in Gulf of Mexico, said “I’d want my life back.” He never recovered from that, after activists construed that to be an irresponsible statement and gleefully spread it to millions of followers on Twitter. The company showed him the door.

Here’s how you can avoid unnecessary controversy on social media:

1. Read Twice: Before tweeting a picture or a post, remember to read it twice and think if it might offend someone. Sometimes even politicians forget that. Shashi Tharoor, an Indian minister in the previous government, called economy class passengers “cattle class” on Twitter. He deleted the tweet later, and tried to explain that the term does not equate humans with cows, and that he had said it in a different context, but the damage was done. The controversy ballooned, it was a public relations disaster for his party, and he had to resign soon after. So whenever you post something on social media, it helps if you read it once more before posting. More so if you are in a global organization.

2. Stick to profile: If your profile says that you are an artist, its best to tweet about subjects related to art. Similarly, if your profile says you work for a company, its best to tailor your tweets to reflect your domain expertise. Doing this consistently will get you more followers interested in the topics you tweet about, and they would also understand where you come from. That will clear up any misunderstandings and prevent escalations.

3. Can you shout it out? In global organizations, employees come from many nationalities and cultures, and that enriches our work environment. And that can also lead to misunderstandings over stray comments or jokes that might be fine in your culture, but not in others. At the workplace most of us are aware of it. But on Twitter, sometimes people let their guard down. Remember, posting on social media is like standing on a bar table and shouting to the world. Think about it that way. Would you say that tweet aloud to your co-workers in office? If not, then perhaps it isn’t right to tweet that.

Happy tweeting!

Follow me @anirvanghosh.

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