By Ellie Leeper

“Treat online like it’s lunch,” exclaimed Elizabeth Anderson, social media strategist for The DeBerry Group. For many, this parallel might sound strange…but for those who attended the Downtown Alliance‘s Young Professionals “Act Right Online” panel this week, the social aspect of an afternoon meal could have something to do with a strategy for branding oneself on the Internet.

YPs learned to approach online conversations the same way they might have a conversation over lunch. Be passionate, personable, professional, but refrain from disclosing your political preferences, and keep to yourself the scandalous visuals of the party you attended last night. While the panelists might not have plowed any fresh ground for those of us who are already deeply immersed in the use of social media, it is clear that people continue to foolishly and carelessly abuse these online spaces, and that repeated warnings to keep from defaming your  reputation remain of the utmost importance.

Downtown young professionals, many younger at heart than in age, filled a ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Riverwalk to listen to three peers impart their wisdom about the “do’s” and “don’ts” of social media use.

Conclusion: social media can either ruin your life, or improve it significantly. With panelists casually tossing around socially savvy lingo such as “Vizify,” “HootSuite,” “password protected apps,” “Flickr,” and “Twitter Grader,” it’s safe to assume that everyone in the room learned at least one item of valuable information, if not five.

Moderator Melissa Burnett, communications director for the Downtown Alliance, asked the panelists: “At the end of the day, what do you want to be known for (on social media)?”

It’s a good question for people who dwell in the immediacy of the social media universe, but seldom step back to question the larger meaning of their work with the messages and images they are broadcasting. Regardless of your goals as a “social media persona,” said panelist Molly Cox, of the non-profit Fancypants, “make sure you are always speaking in the right voice.” If you blur the lines between your personal and your professional voice on social media accounts, Cox advises, you better be willing to own it and take responsibility for the public messages you craft.

Panelist Nan Palmero of Sales By 5, one of San Antonio’s most prolific and recognizable social media practitioners and proud earner of one of the top Twitter Grades in our city, offered his own more uplifting list of “don’ts” to balance the red line warnings handed out during the session: “Don’t be afraid to tweet. Don’t let what we’ve said discourage you in any way from experimenting with your online voice.”

Social Media 101 missives might draw yawns from some, but the dangers are real and the need to be vigilant eternal. Too many people fail to realize that personal behavior can profoundly affect professional image.

To reference a relevant and timely example of this, we can look to London and the 2012 Summer Olympics. The U.S. Olympic Committee, mindful of the pitfalls, sent to London a social media minder whose primary job is to restrain athletes from self-destruction by sending out inappropriate text messages, tweets, Facebook photo postings, etc., especially if those communications conflict with the image and message of the U.S. team. Already, the London Games have yielded several social media disasters that have led to some athletes earning early flights back home.

Alison Doyle, an employment expert and the about.com job search site guide, has published a useful Top 10 Social Media Do’s and Don’ts that expand on the panel’s comments and advice. And the editors of Fast Company asked some of the savviest social media practitioners they know to share their basic rules of the road. There is a lot of practical advice in the sample tweets they posted.

YPs first experienced social media as a personal universe. Facebook was introduced when I was a junior in high school. It was exclusive—you had to have an invitation to join the network from a graduating senior who was just given access to their new college email account. At the tender age of 17 with our social standing of the utmost concern, coupled with the immaturity of how we handled ourselves on the internet—mainly because it was all so new–too often, we acted out what happened in the hallways and at houses left unattended over the weekends… on our personal Facebook pages. We didn’t realize that someday our parents and our employers would play and converse in “our” virtual spaces. At this point in my life, I metered my popularity and my “self-importance” on Facebook by the amount of photos I was tagged in, and how many people wished me a, “Omg Happy Birthdayyyyy!!” on May 25th. As Facebook evolved, and the off-shoots of media developed into the interconnected web that we now deem “social media,” so did I.

This new virtual world became such a hot topic when I was in the middle of my undergraduate Communication Studies at Trinity University, and I was very fortunate to learn from social media research expert and media law specialist Dr. Jennifer Henderson that one’s “presence” online would soon become equivalent to one’s personal brand. It was then, in 2010, that I and my classmates began to realize the importance of devoting thought to building ourselves as public brands on Facebook. We were about to start our job searches, and all of a sudden, self-marketing was about to become extremely important. We started to think about the content and the messages that we were creating and sharing with, literally, the world.

I was relieved to learn after Tuesday’s teachings that I am on the right track with the way I’ve been branding myself. However, there is still some research for me to do to further cultivate the Ellie Leeper brand. For example, I volley with thoughts such as whether or not I should begin to adopt an “online persona” or just remain myself in worlds both on and off-line.

Blogger Elizabeth Anderson’s claim to social media fame, The Waspy Redhead, is a quirky, charming, well-versed display of successfully crafting an online persona that shares information and opinions in the culinary arts, shades of nail polish, preppy fashions, and other various lifestyle elements of a smart, single, young professional gal. I admire Elizabeth’s chosen track because I enjoy storytelling, and as Anderson stated, she enjoys creating her own narrative. I feel that this makes her unique, and I think it’s a good thing

I am indecisive about whether or not I should start my own blog. Friends have suggested the outlet to me, but I feel as though I haven’t experienced enough of real life to share my still naïve opinions about my passions and the world around me, for all of the “interwebs” to see.  I might take the plunge soon…maybe.

So, folks: the world is waiting. Join the conversation. You can follow panelists Elizabeth Anderson, Molly Cox, and Nan Palmero on their social media pages, in addition to following the Downtown Alliance. I also would love for you to follow me. If you should read one of my posts that causes you to react, positively or negatively, please let me hear from you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Ellie Leeper is a graduate of Trinity University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. She now serves as the Director of Young Professional Relations at Downtown Alliance San Antonio. She also serves as Associate Editor for the Society Diaries Magazine. In her spare time, she explores her passions for the performing arts by acting, singing, and dancing on stage here in San Antonio. Connect with her via Facebook , Twitter , or LinkedIn.

 We also invite you to enjoy an earlier story by Ellie on life at the Vistana.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.