After the Battle of Chancellorsville ended in the American Civil War, it actually looked like the impossible was going to happen. It looked like the Confederacy might win their independence as a separate country from the United States. But the South only had a couple of days to celebrate. Shortly after the battle, their great hero, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died.
See, Jackson had had a really successful day of battle, but he had started late, so he hadn’t been able to finish up the job. He went out at night between the lines to scout things out. He was actually contemplating some fighting at night. As he rode back to his own line, his skiddish men fired on him. His two aides died instantly. Jackson was shot twice in the arm, had to have the arm amputated, and eventually died of pneumonia.
I always wonder about those men who essentially killed Jackson. Were they beaten up after their mistake was discovered? Did they live with that moment for years after? One thing is clear. The men were too quick to act and not quick enough when it came to thinking through what they were about to do. You could learn a lot from them when it comes to online engagement.
Shooting Your Mouth Off
When you send out a tweet, a Facebook status, or now a Google update, you are sending things out into the ether of the online world. The world you are shooting into is the way that world looked when Stonewall Jackson was confidently riding back towards his own men. There is an air of tension. There is an air of excitement. And it’s dark.
The temptation is to speak quickly online. If you don’t like something or if you think something is stupid, you need to say it right away, before that tweet you’re reacting to disappears forever. The problem is the same as Jackson’s men faced too, and the repercussions could end up very bad for you or your company. What if the wrong person sees that tweet full of unpleasantness? What if you insult someone accidentally whom you really care about? What if the word gets around that you’re kind of a jerk when you’re really not?
Yes, the online world is magnificent for growth. But one wrong move can also undo everything you have built up to this point. It can destroy the hopes you had for that relationship. It can destroy any chance of you sealing that big deal.
Yell out “hello” first
If Jackson’s men had thought before acting, they might have realized that upon hearing a noise coming towards them, they could have called out. “Who is coming? We have our guns armed and ready!” Jackson probably would have responded along the lines of, “It’s me, dudes. Like, totally duh. I just rode out, now I’m coming back, ya know?”
Well, he probably wouldn’t have exactly said that, but the sentiment would have been there anyway.
What is the online version of this safety measure? We’ve talked about it here a lot, but just to review:
• Back away from the computer, wait a minute, then see if you still want to say that
• Type out the tweet and read it back to yourself (same goes for a blog post, a comment on a blog post, or anything else)
• Imagine saying what you’re about to say with your boss or your grandmother in the room
The list goes on and on. All very simple things. All very easy to do. Or not.
Don’t let yourself become some nameless person in history who did something so incredibly stupid and hurtful that you actually don’t merit the credit for doing it in the minds of future generations. Don’t shoot your great hope in the left arm. Twice. It’s even worse than shooting yourself in the foot.
This is post #89 in the Engagement Series. I thank you for reading!