You already know that it’s pretty easy to get yourself into some big trouble with one little mis-step on social media. All it takes is one thoughtless moment and your inappropriate tweet or Instagram post will follow you around the internet—forever.
But even some seemingly innocent social media moves—like inviting someone to connect with you on LinkedIn—can have unintended consequences. Just ask Diana Mekota, a young professional who attempted to connect with Kelly Blazek, Chief of Cleveland’s Job Bank and got a rude awakening along with a scathing response to her request.
Guest writer Alex Cherin considers what we can learn from this story about maintaining our manners no matter what the medium of communication.
In every bookstore in America there’s at least one tome about the differences between Gen X and Gen Y. Without a doubt, how we use social media is a major one. Yet out of that difference is a lesson we should all observe: How you act in the real world is how you should act online.
Late February, the internet was ablaze over Kelly Blazek’s mean-spirited email to Diana Mekota, a college grad who only invited the Chief of Cleveland’s Job Bank to connect on LinkedIn.
Blazek called Mekota’s invitation “inappropriate, only beneficial to [her], and tacky.” She chalked it up to a major generational problem. But the truth is, we all can learn from this. Even Blazek.
Just because we’re on the internet together doesn’t mean we’re connected. There’s still a veneer of social etiquette that needs to be observed before some people are willing to connect. When reaching out to someone new, you should always provide context so they know the reason behind your overture.
Like in real life, you wouldn’t walk into, say, a senior-level bank exec’s office unannounced, kick your feet up, and talk about the latest viral cat video. That’s probably how Mekota’s invitation appeared to Blazek—and perhaps that’s how it would be perceived by countless others in her position.
Additionally, connecting with someone so elite when it’s seemingly self-serving is kind of tacky. It’s practically begging. Blazek has a gold mine of connections whereas Mekota is just building hers. On LinkedIn where connection is currency, you can see how it would appear that Mekota doesn’t have much to offer.
This informality can be insulting. Or at the very least, off-putting. You wouldn’t want to portray yourself to real-life prospective employers as uncouth and self-serving. Rather, you’d want to show them your best self and reveal why you’re worth their time.
Conversely, let things go when you’re on the internet. In real life, Blazek could have confronted Mekota—told her how insulted she felt, how it hurt her feelings, how America will never be the same again, etc.—and it might never have gotten back to her. But the internet’s a different story.
All someone has to do is copy and paste the body of your email and there goes your career. There are too many examples of how what you say online sticks and often backfires when you least expect it.
Blazek should have just bit her lip and ignored the inappropriate request. Instead, she didn’t heed her own advice and assumed too much familiarity by sending off a scathing email to a stranger, inadvertently inserting her own foot in her mouth.
Yet thanks to that email, Mekota finally has great connections—perhaps even a job. Blazek, on the other hand, now has to pay lip service for her major faux pas.
Whether or not this episode reflects a difference in how Gen X and Gen Y perceive social media is unimportant. Because this lesson is trans-generational—treat each other online with the same respect you’d offer in real life.
Alex Cherin is a writer in Portland, Oregon. He’s available for freelance projects. Find him and more of his work at alexcherin.com.