March 26, 2009 — -- For the last week, the Web's been all atwitter with the latest social media blunder committed by a job hunter. In case you're late to this online schadenfreude party, I'll quickly recap:
Job applicant announces on Twitter that she got a "fatty paycheck" offer with a Silicon Valley firm and in the same digital breath, disses the company, the commute and the gig.
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An associate of the firm sees the trigger-happy applicant's Twitter comment and tweets back, "Who is the hiring manager? I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work."
Seemingly within minutes, the Twitterverse, blogosphere and media outlets from NPR to MSNBC take to rebroadcasting the gaffe ad nauseum, some to snark, most to remind eager job seekers that on Twitter, you can go from anonymous to a horse's ass in the blink of 140 characters.
This kind of viral notoriety might be enough to deter those looking for work from giving Twitter a whirl. But that would be a mistake.
You know all those articles and broadcasts you've been seeing lately about how Twitter can help you get hired? They're right.
Not only can Twitter bolster your professional network, but on this social media site, the padlocked gates of many an HR department are left unlocked.
"Twitter places every job seeker and hiring manager on the same plane," said Dan Schawbel, author of "Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success."
Instead of praying your resume gets plucked from some HR rep's e-mail slush pile, "you can penetrate the job market by messaging hiring managers directly through Twitter," Schawbel said.
Yes, there's more than one way to die a painfully public professional death on Twitter. But staying out of twouble isn't brain surgery. Avoid these Top 3 crimes against twitmanity and your reputation should be fine:
Don't Mock Your Colleagues
If you haven't guessed by now, most Twitter gaffes are the result of someone mistaking the site for their living room.
Lulled into a false sense of privacy, they start taking potshots at the hiring manager's toupee or the boss' breath -- only to learn that it really is a small World Wide Web after all.
Steve, a copy editor at a newspaper in the Greater Seattle area who declined to give his real name for this article, will attest to that.
"I've mocked my paper's online typos on Twitter and been chastised for it," Steve said in an e-mail.
"I went on a rant a month or so ago about our homonym-challenged reporters, some of whom -- despite having more than 20 years of daily newspapering -- clearly didn't know the difference between 'peak,' 'peek' and 'pique,' as well as between 'flair' and 'flare,'" he said.
He also poked fun at an intern who'd turned in a crime story that used the term "Oozy submachine gun."
Unfortunately for Steve, one of the half-dozen co-workers following him on Twitter copied one of his less-than-complimentary tweets into an e-mail and forwarded it around the newsroom.
When the message reached the boss, he "pulled me aside and made it clear that I shouldn't be publicly embarrassing my colleagues like that," Steve said.
"He was right, of course," Steve admitted. "I didn't understand the boomerang effect of Twitter before these incidents."
Don't Tweet in Anger
Tweeting in the heat of the moment when a colleague's rubbed you the wrong way -- another common offense -- is akin to drunk-dialing an ex, only far more public.
Case in point: In February, a marketing professional used Twitter to vent about her frustration with a technology reporter who got snippy when she didn't return his call right away.
The tweet made by the marketing pro:
"Reporter to me 'When the media calls you, you jump, OK!?' Why, when you called me and I'm not selling? Newspapers will get what they deserve"
Apparently having a bad day, the reporter in question unleashed a string of public, expletive-laden Twitter replies to the marketing pro -- not privately, but for all the Twitterverse to see. Here's one I can print: "how about you stop blasting personal conversations on twitter and call me back. what the hell is wrong with you."
As you might expect, the blogosphere lapped up the digital diatribe. So much so that Canada's National Post newspaper, which the potty-mouthed reporter worked for, issued a public apology on his behalf. The reporter wasn't canned; he'd already quit for a position elsewhere.
Moral of the story: You can delete your Twitter posts after a public meltdown, but you can't hide. Like herpes, the Internet is forever.
Do Read Before You Tweet
If you've been reading up on how to attract potential employers on Twitter, you know that one of the smartest moves you can make is to post links to tips and news items about your industry.
Establish yourself as an expert, the thinking goes, and you're bound to impress any hiring managers paying attention.
But last week a fly emerged in this first-to-link-to-breaking-news ointment:
Tech humor site BBspot.com posted an announcement about Twitter unveiling a set of paid premium accounts. Anyone who read beyond the headline would have realized the BBspot post was a farce, as it contained gags like this:
"Users in any tier will be able to purchase an EmbellishTwit add-on for $100/year, which directs tweets to a well-educated offshore employee who will embellish tweets. For example, 'Just had a whole wheat bagel and coffee for breakfast,' becomes 'Just got in from clubbing all night and Heidi Klum is spreading brie on a baguette just flown in on the Concord for my breakfast.'"
Yet a Twitter search on the term "premium Twitter accounts" shows the Twitterverse abuzz with users mistaking the gag for actual news.
"I have to wonder if we Twitterers are all in such a rush to be first to pass on a news story that we've lost the ability to actually absorb what we read," wrote ITworld blogger Peter Smith in a post called "Does Twitter make us dumb, or just lazy?"
"Making one mistake like being taken in by a joke post can undo a lot of reputation building," Smith said in an e-mail interview.
The bottom 140-character line?
"Twitter is an open platform, where everything you say can be used to help build or destroy your brand in minutes," said Schawbel, the author of "Me 2.0."
"Of course, you can send private direct messages, but for the most part you're messaging everyone who is following you and your tweets appear in search engines, so it's important to put your best foot forward all the time."
Certainly better than putting your foot in your mouth.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.