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Is it ever ok to use the ‘F’ word in a tweet or a post?

Generally speaking, there are two types of people; those who run a business (or some other public-facing organisation) and those who don’t. Those who do are typically more aware of how they are publicly perceived and what their digital profile says about them. 

Social media is open to everyone and, in many respects, the freedom it gives people to express who they are is nothing short of wonderful.

For example, if a footie match is driving someone nuts and the ref’ needs locking-up, a social media aware fan is quite likely to express their feelings through Facebook or Twitter, possibly with rhetoric such as “gosh, I wonder what that ref’ was thinking” or “my, my that ref’ is having a day of tough decisions”. Of course, the reality is their comments are likely to be a just tad more explosive and colourful than that.

In 2014 Gary Linker was apparently disciplined by the BBC for tweeting “fu***** hell” and “sh*t on Man United” during a match between his home-town club, Leicester City, and Manchester United. Following the BBC’s ‘disapproval’, Gary responded by tweeting “If I can’t swear when Leicester come from 2 goals down to beat Man Utd. 5-3 then I never can.”

You might argue that Gary Lineker is a normal person and entitled to express himself as he sees fit. That may be true, but he wouldn’t have reacted the same way had he been on television presenting the show. Why? Because he knows it would, potentially, damage his reputation and probably upset/offend more people than not. So, why do it on social media?

It’s natural to want to vent your emotions when, for example, you’re on the receiving end of really bad customer service as it’s a sure way to stir emotion in the perpetrators, and social media provides the perfect platform.

The problem is that whilst naming and shaming the perpetrators and using colourful language to punch-home the message is cathartic and makes the author feel so much better, if you’re a business person or have a public profile, and your post is picked-up by prospective clients/contacts, they’re very likely to remember you for what you said and how you said it, rather than what you do and what you’re good at.

A good example I personally saw on Twitter was directed at a certain rail company and it definitely had some choice words included to make the author’s point. It very expressively told the rail company how this person felt about the poor level of service, However, it didn’t produce a response despite that particular company being extremely proactive on Twitter (mostly, ironically, to apologise for bad service, but proactive all the same). They clearly took the position of choosing not to get involved on this occasion, most likely because it would escalate into a free-for-all.

For me, reading it in the third-person, so to speak, all it did was shape my view of the author in a very negative way because it felt awkward and it seemed like a really unprofessional thing for a seemingly professional business person to be saying.

The lifespan of a tweet is fleeting at best so you could be forgiven for thinking a rant here and there is nothing to worry about, especially if you have only a few hundred followers (Gary Lineker had 4.8 million at the time of the event, now (at the time of writing) 7.3 million!). However, regardless of the number of followers you have, as a business owner, new people connect with you all the time, or even just view your online profiles and, when they do, the first thing many will do is scan through your posts to get a feel for who you are, what you talk about and what you’re interested in, so they can get a feel for how well you fit with their values.

Going back to the original question; “Is it ever ok to use the ‘F’ word?”; in my view, no, especially if you run a business or represent your company or organisation in any way.

Just think about what you say and how you say it, especially if it’s an opinion or critical observation. You don’t need to censor everything or make it all vanilla, but extreme or potentially offensive language or strong opinions could be very damaging for both existing and future relationships as you never know who is reading what you’re posting.

With more than 30 years experience in business and marketing, Clive is the visionary behind The Marketing Alliance, launched in 2018. Clive leads a curated tribe of accomplished marketing and business support professionals who consistently delight clients through their creativity, innovation, strategy and an unwavering commitment to excellence.
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