Politics are never pretty, but the 2016 presidential election was particularly nasty. The nastiness was magnified by social media, with people across the political spectrum adding their own two cents—often at the expense of their personal brand and professional reputation.

Your Personal Brand is Personal—and Public

Unfortunately, some people still believe that online privacy exists. Why else would the public relations person for a major global corporation click “like” on a derogatory meme?  How else do you explain the actions of a local business owner who starts a Facebook brawl with a stranger?

The bad judgment on display during the 2016 presidential election wasn’t limited to any one political party or group. But the ramifications go wide and deep. As a consumer and as a business owner, I won’t do business with or make referrals to someone who engages in online behavior that is disrespectful of other people’s opinions. It doesn’t matter if we support the same candidate or not.

I know I am not alone. It comes down to credibility and trust. It’s hard to believe in someone’s professional capabilities if they don’t appreciate the impact of their actions on their personal brand.

A Case for Potty Mouth?

Speaking of credibility and trust, CNBC published an interesting piece on profanity. Here’s a quote from the article:

“If asked whether swear words make a person seem more trustworthy, people will often say no, but if asked to rate the credibility of statements with and without swearwords, the profanity actually seems to make the information seem more believable.”

Overall, companies that use profanity in conference calls with investors don’t seem to be negatively affected. But CNBC is careful to differentiate between “mild” swear words and the “f-word.” In fact, after searching through more than 100,000 call transcripts, CNBC couldn’t find a single CEO who had used the f-word in the past three years.

That’s certainly not the case in “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru,” the Netflix documentary that prompted Oprah Winfrey to ask the life and business coach why he swears so much. Indeed, the film opens with a non-stop barrage of f-bombs and continues from there.

Tony Robbins has made profanity work for his persona. His most ardent fans don’t seem to take offense. Personally, I don’t think that someone with his talent and personality needs the f-word to make a point. As for the rest of us, communicating through curse words is likely to come across as inappropriate, unprofessional—and downright lazy.

Why You Need a Social Media Unicorn

It’s probably fair to say that at one time or another, we’ve all thought about peppering a post with profanity or popping off on politics. The Internet makes it easy and offers instant rewards. (“I just got 1,500 retweets. I’m trending!”)

The problem is that maelstroms come and go, but our digital reactions live on forever. Moreover, false news sites designed to bait reactions are a serious concern—as of this writing, both Facebook and Google face scrutiny over fake news on their sites that may have influenced the outcome of the presidential election. For companies and associations that maintain an active online presence, the implications are enormous.

So how do you find the right person to manage your online presence? Social media prowess is not enough if it isn’t backed by a deeper understanding of what it takes to succeed in business and in life. Your best advice is to look for a “social media unicorn.” He or she is savvy to the latest technology, yet wise enough to live by the old playground adage of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all!”

Bottom line: The social media machine doesn’t differentiate between someone’s personal brand and the reputation of the company they represent. The people running your digital presence shouldn’t, either.


Ellen Galvin is co-founder of The Galvanizing Group. With over 20+ years of business and brand experience, she helps companies and associations develop internal and external communications that reflect their values and contribute to their success. With the trust of her clients, she often acts as the “online voice” of their brands.