Social media may have given the sea of Davids the power to take down any rude Goliath — but the Golden Rule never goes out of style.
Last week a former co-worker — now a college instructor — posted a link to a story she planned to use in her classes. The “Are you kidding me?” tale is one that reminds us that harsh words can have a lasting impact, and that acclaim doesn’t absolve people of poor behavior.
Kelly Blazek, a communications expert and marketer, operates the Cleveland Job Bank. When jobseeker Diana Mekota, attempting to return to her hometown, wrote to Blazek to request she be added to the invitation-only online networking and employment group, she also asked to connect on LinkedIn, a professional social media platform. Blazek — the Cleveland area’s 2013 Communicator of the Year, as named by the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators — responded with a hateful, degrading beatdown.
As reported by Janet Cho of The Plain Dealer, Blazek wrote: “Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. … Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation.”
A stunned Mekota posted the response online. Other young jobseekers shared similar stories about the woman who had professed she wanted to be seen by prospective job-seekers as a protective older sibling.
I teach a class at Smith-Cotton High School that helps prepare students for the working world, so naturally this story piqued my interest. I reached out to a collection of my friends in communications and social media management to examine the teachable moments this story can provide.
Sarah Nail, instructor of speech and interpersonal communication at State Fair Community College, said: “The situation is a perfect example of how communication is irreversible; once something is said or sent it can’t be undone. This is important to remember in any interpersonal communication, personal or professional, and even more important in today’s culture where social media can magnify and expose poor behavior.”
Matt LaCasse, public relations and marketing specialist for Boys and Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri, noted that the story is a reminder that messages you may believe are private can quickly go public. He also found it a cautionary tale about vanity.
“No matter how far you advance in your career, don’t let your ego get in the way,” he said. “If you started a job board to help people, how can you be offended when someone reaches out to connect on LinkedIn?”
But Mekota’s actions also are being scrutinized. Jenn Messenbrink, senior manager of Digital & Social Content Strategy at Motorola Solutions, said, “Mekota’s decision to post (Blazek’s response) on Reddit and elsewhere with the request, ‘Let’s get her,’ at the top was interesting as well.” And while Mekota is getting offers of help to move back to Cleveland, Messenbrink sees the episode driving home that, “It pays to think before you speak, write, email or tweet.”
But Nail is willing to give Blazek a little cover, and warns against “presuming that she is a terrible person based on the declination emails alone. Clearly she had a lapse in judgment. … Does that mean she is awful in every way imaginable? I think not. We all make mistakes.”
Jenelle Conner, owner of Sun Kissed Marketing, fears too many people are looking for these kinds of “gotcha” moments.
“I just worry that we are creating a culture where we kick people when they are down,” she said. “Blazek was obviously in the wrong, but I think it is also important to remember that it can happen to anyone. … I would just hate to see a culture created where people are constantly trying to expose people at their worst.”
In the wake of the uproar, Blazek has returned the IABC award and, as Cho reported, wiped her accounts from social media sites. Instead of being seen as a leader, she has become somewhat of a pariah. And it all could have been avoided so easily. Denying Mekota’s requests isn’t the issue, it is the way Blazek did it that turned her into a trending hashtag on Twitter.
“It’s not uncommon to receive a request to connect on LinkedIn from a stranger,” said Chris Young, interactive director at Callis Integrated Marketing. “But it is so easy to deny a connection request. Why be hateful? In email and social media, there’s a tendency to speak in a way you’d never speak face-to-face. It’s impersonal. We’d probably all be wise to ask ourselves if we’d say what we’re typing if we had to say it face-to-face, or in public.”
Conner provided solid advice that sums up this situation and so many others in life:
“No. 1 Rule: Don’t be a jerk. Ever. Period. Online or otherwise.”