Choosing Your Words Carefully – The Perils of Digital Communication

The ongoing inquiry over the UK Government’s handling of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic has revealed a series of offensive WhatsApp messages between several key figures at the heart of government. The most notable examples included expletive-laden messages sent by ex-advisor Dominic Cummings referring disparagingly to senior civil servants and ministers. These revelations have been an astonishing insight into type of culture that allowed these attitudes and behaviours to go unchecked.

In the wake of these headlines, it is also a timely reminder for all of us that communication channels cannot be assumed to be truly private and that we need to think twice before we share and communicate on messaging apps and on social media. Ill-judged posts, emails, texts or comments made in haste can come back to haunt you. It is important to consider this whether you are a long-serving CEO or an inexperienced intern.

If you are posting on behalf of your company, or, by reputation, you are associated with it, you are representing the organisation’s brand and must therefore use good judgement regarding the content and messages that are posted online. You should always be truthful, not make promises you cannot deliver on, never disparage your competitors, and avoid getting into arguments.

Social media and digital communications can also expose negative or embarrassing features of an organisation’s culture, including immaturity or a lack of judgment or professionalism. For example, posts sharing inside jokes, office pranks or workplace indiscretions may not be as amusing when an employer or the wider world sees it. Posts can go ‘viral’ online and may risk damaging the public image of the company.

It's not uncommon to feel frustrated at work, but it's important to be mindful of how you express those feelings. Making negative comments about your employer, colleagues, clients or customers could damage not only your own reputation, but also that of the company you work for. Always remain professional. When you put your thoughts into writing, there can be serious repercussions. You run the risk of damaging the reputation of your company, facing defamation claims, or even being accused of cyberbullying or harassment. So, be cautious and think twice before you hit that "post" button.

Your digital presence and communication reflects you and the firm you work for. Fundamentally, it is common sense. Remember, do not share anything digitally that you would not share offline, likewise, always be mindful of what you put into writing.

About the author

Nathan is a member of the senior management team at RWA and manages the company’s e-learning, content and professional standards department. He joined RWA as a content writer in 2016, on successfully completing his PhD. Nathan previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors and has a broad range of experience, including research and analysis, project delivery, corporate governance, and team leadership.

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