Time to reveal a not-so-secret secret that stares us in the face multiple times a day. You may even use this trick yourself, or at least recognize the strategy. After all, you see it on newsstands all the time. Gazing at the magazine selection while you wait for your turn in the checkout line, which magazine do you pick up and flip through? The well-known “secret” is that headlines influence 70% of our decision making.

As a blogger who posts articles on a few different outlets, I sometimes have to take calculated risks to increase my reader engagement. This past week, I picked a controversial headline that suggests I might be a hardcore feminist. I did this because I needed to get a range of responses to determine how readers interpret the article.

Tip: When you want to evaluate marketing ideas for new products, or check if your unique angle works, using a controversial headline is a fast way to test how your audience reacts to your idea.

And oh boy, did the reactions fly in! As expected, a few people unfollowed me right away. After all, the headline appeared to be demeaning towards men. A few readers focused their comments on my lack of political correctness. They felt it necessary to tell me that it is never about being a man or a woman, but it should always be about the individual. (Um, yeah. Of course!) A couple readers realized my strategy halfway through their responses and let me off the hook.

It didn’t go nearly so well in one of the groups I manage…

For whatever reason, creative groups seem to get personal with their responses. I see it all the time in certain forums where the discussion suddenly becomes about the author instead of the topic, and group members go for the jugular. I was verbally attacked, called a man-hater, and much worse. The discussion got so hostile that I eventually had to shut it down!

Our behaviors in cyberspace may not matter much when we have names like Wallflower45 or DogLover123. But, when on professional forums like LinkedIn or any other outlet where your name is your handle, your remarks can cause big problems that you’ll never see coming.

Here is why: The way the Internet is developing, comments can be included in search results. This is already true for websites like LinkedIn and Facebook. What you put out there with your name on it is here to stay. When you use a LinkedIn feature that allows you to search for a person, you will also get their LinkedIn history, including their comments, in the search results. Meaning, the comments you’ve posted are visible to everyone who checks you out—including your clients and the hiring manager for your dream job. You can have an impressive track record and resume, but what the people searching you will pay most attention to is how you conduct yourself. Conflict resolution, respect, and being a team player are attributes all professionals must have.

If a potential client or hiring manager investigates you and takes offense with either what you say or how you say it, the outcome could be disastrous. You could lose a job or miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

(If you have made comments that you now regret, this article offers advice for cleaning up what others can see.)

When commenting anywhere, maintain a professional attitude and request clarification on a hot topic before you blow off steam. Or better yet, choose to respectfully disagree and add something useful to the conversation.

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