Jerry Shen, a director of engineering at Yahoo’s fantasy sports unit, probably had no idea that one email could ruin his reputation and his career. But that’s exactly what happened.
As reported last week, Shen was ousted from a lucrative and influential post at Yahoo after concerns were raised about an interoffice email he sent in mid August that mimicked racially-charged language from the hip hop film Straight Outta Compton. His use of a street-level pejorative in a business email raised hackles within and without the company.
The same day the email surfaced, Yahoo announced internally Shen was leaving the company.
Shen worked for one of the largest tech companies on the planet, and his daily life was spent in and around all forms of digital media, including social media. You would assume he’d be aware that everything he contributes to the digital universe – every Tweet, Instagram, Facebook post and, yes, email – is used as the foundation for a personal brand. Undermine your digital presence with poor judgment and there is no end to the damage it could do.
To protect your brand, you should periodically re-evaluate all the information you have posted online – from the truly social media like Facebook to more focused business media sites like Linkedin.
Scrutinize all of the content carefully: does it represent who you are right now, or is this an earlier version of you? More importantly, on a go-forward basis, does this content represent the individual – both personally and professionally – you want the outside world to see?
If you want to represent yourself in a digital context, you need to put in the work and nurture your online persona to ensure that it does not misrepresent the person you want to be. Some specific things to consider include:
- For all online profiles, ensure you are using a current photo and profile data. Make sure your current responsibilities, role and career direction are clearly enunciated.
- Don’t spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror. It’s fine to include a long and detailed list of past accomplishments. But it’s also important to remember that people want to know where you want to go in the future.
- For sites like Twitter and Linkedin, try to establish and maintain a regular cadence with several posts per week and a requisite amount of interactions with people in your network. Your online presence can do wonders for your personal brand, but only if it is fed and maintained on a regular basis; a neglected online presence can have a negative impact, making you appear disengaged or out of touch.
- Pay attention to who is trying to connect with you and who is viewing your profile. Try to build on those inquiries and extend your network. Get involved in online group activities to see if this helps you make the contacts you will need in future stages of your career.
- Remember that you should never say or repeat anything on social media that you wouldn’t say directly to someone in a face-to-face conversation. Social media somehow encourages people to say things they would never say directly to another person. If you would feel awkward saying something in person, it shouldn’t be said online.
You can’t hide your brand when almost any tweet, post, image or email can go viral. You can, however, ensure that it is an accurate reflection of the best version of you.