Bad Tattoo

Tattoo Fail

It’s no secret that not much of anything is kept secret these days. Thanks to the proliferation of social media, our lives are becoming increasingly intertwined with technology. With so many of us wearing our lives on our digital sleeves, the question becomes whether or not we can ever escape our digital pasts. Harvard Academic Juan Enriquez argues that we can’t in his TED talk “Your online life, permanent as a tattoo.”

Enriquez explains that tattoos are like stories, permanently communicating simple truths about our lives. With endless applications vying for our information (Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, Google, mobile devices, GPS’s, etc.), our daily interactions form “electronic tattoos” that intimately describe our lives and can be as indelible as the real deal. Tech start-up logged 18 billion faces from photos and videos before being acquired by Facebook, allowing extensive personal information to be accessed with a quick headshot (More on Even purchase intent will soon be assessed by software applications like “facedeals” which will use consumers’ faces to bring them targeted promotions (More on facedeals).These recognition technologies, combined with the social media pages we input our information into, create enormous benefit for businesses, but what is the impact for their clients?

For one thing, information has emerged as a coveted commodity that individuals are able to sell in exchange for free access to exciting new applications and technologies. Previously, advertisers would pay for an individual’s attention by purchasing advertisements, but with the advent of social media, people are now able to sell not only their time, but their personal information. Therefore, our intricate digital lives come at the expense of total transparency, the likes of which would have George Orwell rolling over in his grave.

So why have over 1.97 Billion people worldwide abandoned privacy in the name of social media (Social Media Statistics)? Most obviously, our digital lives offer immense benefit in communicating who we are or even more often, who we aspire to be. In many ways, we should embrace the permanence of our online lives as a concrete marker of where we’ve been and where we’re going. In her article entitled “Embracing the Truth of the Permanently Impermanent,” Judith Johnson of the Huffington Post discusses the ephemeral nature of modern life. She writes, “What is it that makes the pervasive impermanence in our lives so frightening? Maybe it is because it is so non-negotiable and therefore seems to undermine our self-importance.” Perhaps a quarter of the planet clings to social media to establish a sense of permanence in their relationships and otherwise fleeting daily interactions, even if it means abandoning their privacy. Or maybe they are just delighted by talented cats and the addictive nature of likes, shares, and retweets. Any way you slice it, billions of people are inking their digital tattoos and no, these ones are not going to wash off.

So how does this apply to your company? Well, like people, businesses have personalities that need to be carefully cultivated and maintained as much as any person today. The social media wallflower is not going to bloom in today’s digital world. But with all that posting, many companies are finding themselves in the midst of costly social media blunders that are hard to erase (A few notable ones). If bad news travels fast, bad brand news travels even faster, causing immediate and lasting damage to reputation, trust and revenue.

So what can be done about it? Are individuals and companies doomed to a life of regrettable profile pictures, late-night status updates, and embarrassing Youtube videos? Can our brands ever escape the grasp of those ill-fated hashtags? With a few simple tips, you may not be able to completely remove the digital tattoo, but you can at least touch it up a little bit.

  1. Search yourself: The best way to figure out what’s out there is to start with a simple Google search of yourself. You might be surprised to find that embarrassing blog post about your high school crush still hanging out in cyberspace.
  2. Look at your privacy settings: Social media privacy settings are constantly changing and with them, the amount of your information that gets divulged. A quick scan through your current settings can reveal some invasive settings that require you to opt-out.
  3.  Manage extraneous accounts: The more dormant accounts you leave on the internet, the more difficult it will be for others to find the information you want to promote. Closing or consolidating old accounts is a great way to put your best web foot forward (not to be confused with webbed foot).
  4. Look before you leap: The best way to prevent unwanted search content is social media abstinence. If you are debating between whether or not to post something, the answer is probably not to. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way.
  5. Get help: Social media is an art and not all of us were meant to stand at the easel. The trial-and-error method may be too costly for important brands, so find someone who already knows the ropes. Surrounding yourself with the best digital talent is a strategic way to not only avoid mistakes, but to create lasting brand value.

Tattoos can be a fun and unique way to tell your story. Just make sure your digital tattoo tells the right one. For the full TED talk that inspired this post, check out: