Digital Activism: 6 Things to Consider Before You Share
Millennial: Anyone born between 1980 and 1994. In some definitions, this also includes those born until the year 2000, making anyone between the age of 37 and 18 a millennial.
Are you a millennial? Most of you reading this will probably say yes, based on the above definition and not necessarily because you agree with the term “millennial” -- and that is okay. We are the largest generation since the baby boomers, we are sometimes referred to as Generation Y (and other, not so nice words!) and we are the first group of “digital natives.” Many of us learned how to use computers in elementary or middle school and 90% of us use smartphones on a daily basis.
The rapid change we’ve experienced in our lifetimes has created a sharing economy -- where we “rent” music, cars and more, and many of us are delaying the tradition milestones of homeownership and marriage.
These are the things that define us as a generation based on statistics data but what about us as individuals?
For many of us, the “what are you up to now?” question has become synonymous with how we connect, share and engage. We’re the generation that invented the selfie, that created the influencer (or the formalized influencer as a business) and we’re the generation that changed the political landscape (according to Pew Research).
According to Forbes, we are more likely than any other generation to review products online -- both positively and negatively. And according to the same article, citing a Fast Company survey, we’re the most likely group to share online when we’re happy as we directly connect the two.
It is easy to then draw the conclusion that when we are unhappy, we will also take to our keyboards (and if you need some proof, the New York Times has a survey on how to make content viral and anger is one of the top emotions in response to a viral piece of content!).
As we do that, our digital footprint becomes larger and larger while at the same time becoming more visible and searchable.
In general, this a good thing. The more searchable you are, the more authority you have online and the more authority you have the more likely you are to be poached and hired. It’s also good for those of us who desire to be digital influencers or hope to be able to create a business based on our digital brands.
But as Benjamin Parker said, with great power comes great responsibility. Having access to millions of people from behind our mobile devices means that we must think before we hit send… or at least, one would hope we do that.
The urban legends of the blue folder have been circling around for years -- when Jenny so-and-so or William this-and-that was in the last round for their dream job and SLAM! The folder with Cabo photos suddenly dashed all of their hard-earned hopes.
Have I ever been in a room where said blue folder was displayed?
But millennials, as we discussed, rely on recommendations from their peers and word-of-mouth travels like wildfire so this has made many of us consider what we should and should not share.
Now, we’re at a moment in time that some might say is a turning point. As my favorite musical says “if you stand for nothing, what do you fall for?” And if you really think about those founding fathers, those who stood up and spoke out, attaching their names to pieces of paper that were truly death warrants based on the laws of the time, they were the same age as many of us today. Alexander Hamilton, for example, was in his early 20s during the Revolutionary War.
Of course, Hamilton barely has his story told not pages and pages of digital data ripe for the picking by employers, clients and prospective significant others.
How can we maintain a professional digital brand and still speak up for the things we believe in no matter where we fall on the aisle?
Millennials are the next generation to be in powerful positions in the corporate, private and public sectors and many are thinking of their own runs for office. That does change the way we’re thinking of sharing.
Many of the issues being discussed today are emotionally charged. And that means there’s a high chance for disagreement. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss these things, but it does mean you need to think before you do.
Here are 6 ways to help you be a digital activist and still stay employed:
All or Nothing
Being an activist, a true activist, means being an ally. It means standing up for all issues and not just those that affect your lifestyle and choices.
This is a skill we would all do well to #werk on. How do we listen to those with opposing viewpoints? Can we ask questions? Can we share our points of view without making it seem like the only viable solution? The best way to have a discussion is to actually have a discussion. I find that sharing with a call for comments is a positive way to encourage safe, calm commentary and, if it does get out of hand, interjecting with smart comments and well-researched facts is a quick way to diffuse the situation. Or you can check out my three tactics for dealing with negative publicity online here.
Don’t be a Troll
No one likes the Troll at the bridge in fairytales because he’s often very overbearing and unkind! He can be sneaky and tricky, he doesn’t want to allow the heroes to pass and get to the next leg of the journey. He is kind of a petulant child that wants what he wants, when he wants it. Don’t be an Internet Troll! If someone is using a word or phrase that you feel is personally offensive -- explain it to them, help them see the issue from your point of view. If this is not a viable course of action for whatever reason (or if you don’t want to do it; you don’t owe anyone any explanations, this is just a strategy that can sometimes help!), try having a conversation in person the next time you see them instead of linking your digital footprint to a large fit that can be edited and misinterpreted in the future. Everything online can be isolated and taken out of context so it is very important to remember that.
Pick the Issues to be Visibly Vocal About
Our first point is that if you’re going to stand up for YOUR issues, you have to stand for other’s issues too. Yes, that is true but what we’re saying here is that you can choose to share certain issues publicly while showing your support for other issues privately. Transparency is important online, but some issues are either too close to your chosen field of work or simply something that you shouldn’t be sharing an opinion about publicly. Sometimes, it’s more important to say “thank you for sharing your thoughts, I have learned something today” than to interject your own opinion or feelings on a subject.
Choose Your Sources Wisely
This statement goes for digital brand building across the board, but especially when you’re sharing political or personal points of view. Make sure the sources you’re sharing are vetted, reliable and that the websites will not bring someone to NSFW content. Of course, you can’t control if a source moves a link or shuts down a particular page on their site, but you can make sure that the source you’re sharing presents content that you want to be associated with your brand. And remember, social search is now part of Google so you can safely assume that if you share something, it will be connected to your digital footprint sooner rather than later.
Pick Your Five
At my first post-grad job as a Local Reporter, I was asked to share my point-of-view in a questionnaire. This questionnaire also asked me to share who I voted for in the last election, how I felt about key issues in the community and my general background. We then had to publish it on our sites so that all of our readers could see it when they read our stories. This made me really think about my POV and why I felt that way. If you hadn’t had that experience, it’s a good exercise to do, whether or not you publish it! By Pick Your Five, I mean that you should find five people who do what you do or what you want to do and then review their feeds. Google them. See what they share, what they talk about, who they follow. Learn from their experiences and then take what serves your goals, your brand and your personal points of view and use that to inform your decisions.
The bottom line is that sharing your thoughts when it comes to issues that may be emotionally-charged is challenging and must be evaluated every time you hit “share.”
What did you think of this piece? I look forward to your feedback (and calm discourse) in the comments.