Last week I was on LinkedIn for a short visit and decided to click on the Home link to see what some of the folks I'm connected to were sharing. For those who've never been to LinkedIn it's for people who hope to do business with others that might have online profiles and, in my mind, anyone who either wants to find new employment or potential customers needs to be there.

His Argument
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I scrolled down a few posts until I saw one that someone I'm connected to had "liked". Just like on Facebook, people can click on a "like" link for things they see that they want to give affirmation to. In this case the person I know had clicked on an article that was motivational, talking about someone who'd overcome some pretty bad physical obstacles and was back to living a pretty good life. I thought it was pretty cool; I'm a sucker for good stories like that.

This particular post had lots of comments and, against my better judgment, I decided to check out some of them. One would think I've learned my lesson based on what I see on online newspapers... but no, sometimes you're compelled to check things out a bit further.

There were definitely some people who were moved by the story. However, at least half the people were angry that the article had been shared there at all, saying it didn't belong on LinkedIn but on Facebook instead. And a lot of the comments weren't even close to being that nice.

It turns out the reason there were so many comments is because people were arguing back and forth on both the appropriateness of the article on LinkedIn and the inappropriate behavior of people who weren't showing any compassion for how the injured person had recovered their life. I only endured so much of this before I decided to get off LinkedIn for the day, feeling pretty disgusted with it all.

I have to admit that I knew that sort of thing would be coming as LinkedIn moved away from only business networking into a competition with Facebook. That's the kind of juggernaut that programmers think they need to compete with rather than standing apart and being a unique entity. It's actually too bad because the one thing I'd thought was a good idea, that being the groups concept, has been killed and ruined and... well, I can't remember the last time I visited a group.

What's going on? It turns out that the quest for LinkedIn to become more like Facebook has turned what should be legitimate and thinking business people into a reality TV show. It's like they've forgotten that they're on LinkedIn to try to show themselves as positive business people, but instead have forgotten that everything they say in public is going to be seen by thousands of other people who won't care how business proficient they might be.

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If you're looking to lose business, act bad on social media. There are lots of tales of people who've exhibited bad behavior and lost business scattered all over the country. I'm going to share two cautionary tales.

The first involves a guy whose name I can't even remember anymore. He had a very successful business when I knew him, easily making more than $250K a year and living the high life. In the middle of it all he'd created a blog and decided he was going to have fun with it. There's nothing wrong with that; after all, I have 5 blogs of my own.

He decided life would be easier if he created videos and put them on his blog. He was a pretty funny and laid back guy, and I kind of enjoyed his videos. His problem; every other word was a cuss word, or at least seemed like it.

He was flying high in life and on his blog... until one day one of his customers happened to find the blog. There was no denying it was him; he hadn't changed his name and his customer knew his face. He was in shock, but then he took it in a direction that's probably more common than most people would believe. He called some of the other customers of this guy and sent them to the blog.

I know all this because one day I went to visit the blog and it was gone; totally, no videos, no content, only a blank page at that domain address. Because he'd commented on my blog a couple of times I had his email address so I sent him an email asking him if he was having a problem. He wrote back and told me the tale and said that most of his customers had decided to drop him because they didn't approve of his behavior in the videos. He said he was scrambling, trying to get some of them back, didn't think he would get them all, but had learned his lesson and was never going to blog again.

Imagine that; going from living a pretty content and luxurious life to... well, I never heard from him again but I hope he was able to recover at least a little bit.

The second tale is one of my own. Back in 2008 I joined Twitter when it was the next big thing going on. I wasn't sure it was the thing for me, and now it's turned out to be my favorite social media platform.

I'm sure you remember 2008 because it was a presidential election year. I normally don't like following politics but it's hard to get away from in the big election years. In this case, Barack Obama was getting close to closing the deal and becoming the Democratic candidate for president. I really didn't know who he was, which shocks a lot of people but I hadn't been in the mood to have to deal with politics. I just knew Hillary Clinton was going to be the presidential candidate so I was going on with life as normal.

Obviously Obama got the nomination and, once John McCain got the Republican nomination the race was on. I started out still not paying attention but Twitter brought me into the race... and it was because of "race".

Back then I was connected to a lot of people I knew more by reputation than personally. Some of these people were pretty big names in social media and marketing. You can follow someone without them following you but there were a lot of them who'd connected with me for some reason. I'd thought that was pretty cool... until...

~ Obama Results ~
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The birther movement started. Once that started, suddenly I was seeing a lot of these people I'd thought were pretty cool business people saying some of the most racist things I'd ever seen. I don't think they even knew how racist their words were; oftentimes people use racial terminology that they don't know is that way.

I was so appalled by what I was seeing from some of these folk that I called them out on it and then immediately dropped them from my feed. I don't know if others did the same but at that moment I didn't care one iota; I was done with them. This becomes a story because suddenly, now that President Obama is getting closer to leaving the White House, many of these people are trying to connect with me... and I refuse to even acknowledge them.

Truthfully, I have no idea why they'd even care because they obviously didn't care what they were saying back then, and I doubt their feelings have changed one bit. But like the customers of the guy I talked about above, I know that if they were willing to say something like that in public about him they'd have no problem saying the same thing about me.

I get this thing about free speech and people feeling they have the right to say what they want. I also always believe that if you say things you need to be ready to accept the consequences of what you've said.

I often talk about race on this blog because I know that few others are doing it, and those posts rarely get much feedback because race can be a scary thing to talk about. Yet, it's a major part of who I am, and frankly once I walk into a room there's no hiding the fact, whether I talk about it or not. There are times I'm pretty blunt about it while at other times I can be way more subtle in discussing the issue. I'm good with my behavior and confident that no matter what I say I'm not putting myself in a negative light... at least I don't believe I am.

But in a public place like Twitter or LinkedIn, where one would expect people to be putting their best face forward, it's not only risky in losing potential business but also losing some of the business one already has, even their job.

Is your negative opinion about something that's supposed to be good really worth losing your business or your job? Is your bad behavior in a very open social media worth your right to free speech? Is finding a more politically correct way to express your displeasure really all that hard to do?

I think these are interesting questions to answer... if you've got the guts to do so.