Leveraging Emotions to Build a Positive Reputation Online
How can you use how you feel to build a positive reputation online? Our team explores the power of emotion and its potential for good in reputation management.
Humans are inherently emotional. We all get angry or sad at times, just as we can experience feelings of joy and contentedness. Experiencing them is never a problem. What we do with these emotions, and how we act on them, however, is a choice.
It’s tempting to vent. After all, when we feel angry, we want to let it all out. And it’s certainly easier to do if we don’t see the faces of the people we might be offending. What we don’t consider in these moments is just how much damage venting and other types of strong emotions can do to our online reputation.
If you truly want to build a positive personal reputation online, you have to be able to control your emotions. It doesn’t mean suppressing them, of course. But it does mean making sure you keep your emotions in check as you post and publish content. The alternative could lead to mortal danger to your online reputation.
How do you control your emotions? How can you make sure that even as you experience understandable feelings, you don’t translate them into animosity and offensiveness? The answer is complex. Still, a full consideration of it can be absolutely crucial for your personal reputation management.
Why is Everyone Angry Online?
In recent years, news stories have begun to pile up: engaging online is bad for our emotional health. Frequent social media usage will increase stress, worsen your mood, and even lead to anxiety and depression. Once you scroll down a comment section on a popular website or your favorite social media newsfeed, it’s easy to reconcile these research findings with reality. The obvious follow-up question: why?
Studies have shown we look to online interactions for social affirmation. We want to present the best version of ourselves to others who do the same. The trouble: reality doesn’t always match up. As others share an (often fictional or overstated) account of their personal lives, we get frustrated our lives aren’t as great. This leads to frustration.
Online, we can express these emotions much more easily. After all, we don’t have to worry about someone sitting directly in front of us. We don’t have to look into their face as we insult them and build up our argument into a rage. Instead, we can type a few angry words, share them—and experience at least temporary catharsis.
Take these two components, and you get a potentially dangerous combination. We’re more likely to be stressed out and in a worse mood because of social media interactions. At the same time, we also feel more empowered to share that emotion. Is it really a surprise, then, how everyone is angry all the time online?
The Power of Emotions on Social Media
Social media especially tends to act as a willing catalyst for emotions; positive or negative. For years now, industry publications like Advertising Age have encouraged marketers to embrace emotional language when posting online. They cite studies that show just how much more successful brands who embrace emotions tend to be in getting shares, comments, and likes than those who choose to remain neutral.
There’s only one problem with the advice, and it applies to both business and personal reputation management: social media algorithms don’t care about what type of emotions you feel or express. In fact, anger is among the most relatable and frequently shared emotion online. As a Smithsonian article highlighted a few years ago:
The likelihood of content going viral (has) less to do with the positive or negative tone of an article, they say, and more to do with how activated the person felt after reading it… Joy moves faster than sadness or disgust, but nothing is speedier than rage.
So we’re all angry. We see others getting angry, and we start to agree with them. We share anger with our friends, followers and connections. Algorithms ensure plenty see it, and start to agree with it. And so the vicious cycle turns. Emotions are undoubtedly powerful online—but it also means they can go very wrong, very quickly.
The Consequences of Losing Control
We know now why it’s so tempting to share emotions and frustration online. It’s why, especially around politically charged and controversial topics, the sentiment on networks like Facebook, message boards, and comment sections tends to be so negative. Now, it’s time to understand just why it matters.
Let’s start with a clear statement: your online reputation is all about credibility. Audiences need to feel like they can intuitively trust you, and recognize your expertise and level-headedness. Naturally, it requires a clear head at all times. After all, would you trust someone who could burst out with angry or even offensive comments at any time?
The answer is a clear no. So when you lose control and start to get emotional, even if it’s on a topic you feel to be justified, the consequences can be devastating. Take Roseanne Barr as an example, who ignited a huge controversy earlier this year despite a hugely successful relaunch of her show because of emotionally charged social media posts. She, of course, had a right to expressing her opinions. But it didn’t stop her fall from grace.
Another example comes from the sports world, where Philadelphia 76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo had to resign after fake Twitter accounts surfaced in which he bashed his own team, insulted reporters, and more. What must have seemed like a release valve from a stressful job to him instead was taken as a core violation of organizational principles. As of the time of this writing, Colangelo is still searching for a new job.
Can You Take Emotions Out of Your Personal Brand?
All of the above may cause you to go to the other extreme. If emotions are contagious, and the most tempting emotion is anger, it’s best to keep them completely out of the equation as you build your personal brand, right?
Unfortunately, the simple solution is not quite right either. Emotions are, after all, undoubtedly powerful. Tap into the right source, and you can quickly build expertise and credibility. Take them completely out of your personal reputation management, and you might actually run into similar issues as you would when letting them run loose.
Consider the case of Oscar Munoz. After a well-publicized incident in which his airline injured a passenger while dragging them off the plane, the United Airlines CEO released a statement entirely removed from emotion and devoid of compassion. He quite literally went through the motions as he mentioned how his staff followed the rules. United Airlines stock tanked, and Munoz (while still heading the company today) saw the PR disaster cut his pay in half for 2017.
Of course, it’s an extreme example. More often, taking emotions out of the equation simply means releasing bland statements which may as well be press releases. These messages won’t be consumed, shared, or enjoyed by anyone. They simply fill the digital void, but will not contribute to your reputation building.
The key, then, is not ignoring the emotional appeal and power of the internet altogether. Instead, if you truly want to build your personal reputation online, the key is to control and harness emotions into a positive force that magnifies and expands your message.
How Can You Control Your Emotions Online?
In other words, how can you still leverage them for good while taking out the potential harm they can do when left uncontrolled? An easy start is to ask yourself a simple question:
Would you say or do that to your mom/child/significant other?
If the answer is no, there should be no incentive to share it online. Whether you see them or not, and whether or not you’ve ever met them, real people consume your content. They will be just as offended, and even angry at your emotionally charged content as someone close to you would be. Don’t post something online you wouldn’t say to a person near to your heart.
Of course, this general rule leaves room for plenty of interpretation. After all, you have built up a relationship and rapport with anyone close to you over the years. That same rapport does not exist as you interact with strangers online. In these cases, a more measured approach is often necessary.
The SPACE to THINK Approach for Controlling Emotions
There are plenty of advice pieces and methods for regulating your online emotions. Our favorite is the SPACE to THINK approach, shared in a recent article by The Conversation. The acronym both sums up the core philosophy behind the method, while the individual words it stands for go into detail about a process you can take any time your emotions bubble up. Let’s begin with the SPACE acronym:
- Stop: Write down what you want to post, but don’t post it yet. In other words, grind the wheels to a halt before you publish.
- Pause: Take at least an hour, preferably more, to think about the content you’re about to post.
- Assess: Apply the THINK framework below. Also consider how it fits into the personal brand you’re looking to build, and the audience likely to read it.
- Confirm: If you think the content is ready to post (edited or not), run it by someone whose opinion you trust to see how they would react.
- Execute: Send the post only if you and the person you showed it to felt comfortable with it. If not, delete the content.
As you go through the SPACE concept, it makes time to THINK about a number of questions related to the content you’re about to post:
- Truthful: Can you objectively say you believe what you’re about to post to be true? If not, how can you make it that way?
- Hurtful: Is there a good chance what you’re about to post could cause emotional pain to a portion of your audience?
- Illegal: Does your post fall into the category of illegal speech, such as language which could be interpreted as blackmail or physical threats?
- Necessary: Do you really need to write what you’re about to publish? What do you have to gain from it?
- Kind: Are you, by publishing the post, improving someone’s day? Is your content uplifting, rather than depressing or worse?
In short, it’s all about consideration. You have to make sure before every post you make, you think about it first. Pay special attention to the way your audience might react to it. If you don’t, you risk even unknowingly making posts which can come back to haunt you at a later time.
Naturally, even this degree of consideration can mean something slips through the cracks. When that happens, be honest to yourself about it. See what went wrong, and where you can improve. Issue an apology if needed. Don’t try to run away from it, but use it as a learning experience for future posts.
Are You Ready to Build Your Positive Reputation Online?
Reputation building, for both business and personal brands, has to take emotions into account. After all, we all experience them. The key, then, is controlling and leveraging the right emotions rather than leaving them free reign whenever they bubble to the surface.
You can build a reputation of winning through understanding others. Ask questions, discover how your audience feels, and remove your biases from the equation. When the public court is in session online, ask questions to discover and uncover all without bias. It’s how you build trust over time, and how you make sure your audience and credibility grow simultaneously. Then, you can ensure you have a trusted reputation.
Getting to that point takes time. Strategy is also essential. After all, the emotional component is only one piece of your online reputation. Your strategy has to be comprehensive, taking emotions into account even as you build a larger messaging basis.
You might need help sorting through this process. Personal reputation management is as complex as it can be rewarding. We specialize in helping individuals build a positive reputation online, using emotions as leverage rather than a harmful deterrent. Contact us to learn more, and to discuss a potential partnership.