Dear Founder, Don’t Be A Kanye. Signed, Everyone.

If you’re reading this, that probably means you’re involved in a startup. Which means that you’ve most likely heard about Kanye West’s early-January rantfest on Twitter in which he declared his intentions to kick off a new company, DONDA, which will “pick up where Steve Jobs left off”(!). DONDA will supposedly have 22 divisions including:“architects, graphic designers, directors musicians, producers, AnRs, writers, publicist, social media experts, app guys, managers, car designers, clothing designers, DJs, video game designers, publishers, tech guys, lawyers, bankers, nutritionists, doctors, scientists and teachers.”

TWENTY TWO divisions, presumably overseen totally by one guy whose main qualifications are that he didn’t do very well in school, he makes music, and he apparently really hates blondes. Um. Okay. So now Kanye is not only picking up the mantle of arguably the world’s most visionary entrepreneur, but he’s also an “expert” in: music, fashion, architecture, design, media, tech, law, automotive, gaming, finance, nutrition, medicine, science and education. Hooray. The world may rejoice, as our savior is come.

Seriously though. It’s ridiculous, right?

One of the problems with Kanye’s Twitter rant was that it was so stream-of-consciousness and rapid-fire that he certainly didn’t have a chance to actually think through what he was writing. It really shows, because as you read through the Twitter stream spanning January 4 into the wee hours of January 5, it gets pretty weird. One of my favorites is this gem:

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For those of us who aren’t world-famous and constantly mobbed by people trying to get close to us, a nonsensical social media blowout like Kanye’s can be deadly. People tend to be awfully forgiving when you’re already a big star and wield some sort of influence, but if you’re “just” a startup founder no one’s ever heard of, or a marketing guy overwhelmed with his personal life, etc., people aren’t that forgiving. For normal people, simply tweeting a stream of non-sequiturs or sending a few ill-advised emails could send you plummeting into the ranks of Ocean Marketing. That’s probably not the way you want to become a household name.Imagine that you’re working for the 20th straight hour on a tough project for your startup. Your eyes are bleary, your mouth feels like cotton from all the coffee you’ve chugged. You’re irritable, probably hungry, and not exactly sure when you last showered. You switch to Twitter or Facebook for a few minutes to give yourself a break.

Here’s where it gets tricky; anything you say can and will be held against you.

  • If you feel like blowing off steam by trading jokes with a friend, make sure they’re not the kinds of jokes that will give a potential investor or partner pause about your maturity level or professionalism.
  • If you’re responding to customer support inquiries and someone tells you your product or shipping schedule really sucks, take a minute. Set aside your own feelings and reply to that customer with respect. Snark never, ever wins. I’ve even seen a company representative snark back to a user complaint “well, it’s FREE”. Don’t ever do this.
  • If you’re reading up on industry news, stop and think about your comments or replies, rather than firing off an indignant comment or two about how stupid so-and-so sounds. Guess who sounds stupid to everyone else?
  • Watch what you re-tweet, like or +1. These actions are considered endorsements by many people.
  • With regard to profanity: it amazes me that I should have to comment on this, and I know this is 2012 but: it’s unprofessional. Unless you’re Dave McClure, save the f-bombs for your next happy hour with friends.
  • And while we’re on that subject: if you have been drinking, step away from the keyboard.

The key thing to remember is this: Social media isn’t just for “hanging out” once you’re the founder or public face of a company. It’s a stage, and you’re front and center. You can either use it to help make your star and your company’s star rise, or you can use it to turn people off. Choose your words carefully, because as Rupert Murdoch also showed us, even a deleted tweet rarely goes unpunished. You might even consider locking down one or more of your social media accounts and keeping it totally private-friends only-so that you’ll have a place online where you can let it all hang out. I think this is a good idea, and even though I’m really open to connecting on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc., I keep my own Facebook account private and personal.I’m not suggesting that you act fake, change your online personality, or suck up to people. I’m not saying you have to be boring, bland or “corporate”. It’s possible to be edgy, hip, fun and smart without being inappropriate. You just have to try harder. Hubspot is a great example of this. So is @FAKEGRIMLOCK, who by my count has only ever used one remotely objectionable word (ass) in his thousands of comments, tweets, and posts.I am saying to think before you type. Kanye didn’t, and now no matter what DONDA ultimately ends up doing–short of literally curing cancer and AIDS–he still looks like a fool. And rightly so. Paul Christophoro obliterated Ocean Marketing’s company name, lost his major client, and made himself a laughing stock. The guy is very likely unemployable now after some of the stuff he wrote (not to mention the way he handled a customer on behalf of his client company).

Don’t be a Kanye. Use your head, think before you Tweet, and make sure that you’re presenting yourself in the best possible light. They say you never know who’s watching, but I’m here to tell you that as soon as you do something stupid: everyone is.

Let me know if you think I said something stupid. You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+…but not Facebook.

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