One of the many nuances I dwell upon in great detail in my corporate workshops on personal branding is something seemingly small and insignificant that most people don’t even give it enough thought – how and when to reply to someone on social media.
I came across a broadly useful write-up on this topic on WIRED.
The suggestions in the article are well-meaning and applicable, though not easily. The sheer emotions one goes through when confronted with an insult by a stranger on social media and the compelling need to react and have the last word could derail any sane person.
While I add a lot more nuance in my workshops around how to use the reply to augment your personal brand, how to pick the people (strangers) to reply to (instead of reacting to any and everyone) based on their social media standing, authenticity, overall credibility among others, there is one specific point that the WIRED article chooses not to address.
That is the social media cardinal rule: do not engage with a quote-tweet (or quote-post).
Most social media platforms (Instagram is an exception) allow a quote post: you say something, someone else quotes you and adds their point of view.
A quote-post is very, very different from a reply or a tagged post, but all 3 have the same platform-level effect for you – you get an alert that someone has ‘mentioned’ you.
The first point to consider when confronted with a quote-post is that it is not a conversation. If it was meant to be a conversation, the other person would have ‘replied’ to you.
In the social media platform world, there is no difference between a quote-post or a reply, but in the real world, the approach differs considerably.
Consider this real-life scenario: I’m having dinner with my family. My little daughter refuses to eat her greens and vegetables. I tell her to eat them because it is good for her. She continues to refuse. I then go to the balcony and shout out aloud to everyone in the apartment, “Listen folks, this daughter of mine refuses to eat her vegetables. Isn’t that terrible?”.
When I told her to eat, it was a reply. A conversation. The intended audience was one person, even though the other people in the table could listen to that conversation.
When I shouted out from my balcony, it was a Quote. The intended audience was the neighbours in my apartments PLUS my daughter. But, she was just one among the many intended audience. And because of that, she’s under no obligation to respond because she can treat it as a broadcast, and not a conversation, and ignore me.
My approach was to broadcast her refusal in front of others and use that public broadcast to make her do my bidding.
Similarly, when someone replies to you, they are respecting the sanctity of a conversation even though given how everything is public on social media, the conversation could be seen by others (people following both of you) too. But, when they quote-post you, their primary intended audience is NOT you. It is their followers where you are one among many.
You do not need to feel compelled to react (this is applicable even with a reply, which is where the WIRED article helps). Understand the dynamics of the conversation even if everything is public online and choose your action carefully. Just remember – you are NOT in a conversation. You are merely sitting in the audience and the other person is on the stage saying something to all of you, while also naming you in specific.