In addition to making the world a smaller place, the Internet has made it snarkier.
For those of you who don't know what "snark" means, Urban Dictionary says it's a mash-up of "snide" and "remark" and synonymous with "sarcastic comments."
The Pew Internet Project reports 85 percent of U.S. adults go online, and 61 percent use social media. Lamentably, "Civility in America 2013" finds snark is every bit as pervasive. The annual survey reports 70 percent of Americans believe incivility has risen to crisis levels and the Internet encourages uncivil behavior.
It's a growing problem in the workplace, too, according to Gundy Kaupins, a Boise State University professor who teaches human resource management and labor relations. He says snarkiness can create a great deal of dysfunction, such as a lack of communication, little or no unity and working in opposition - all of which can hurt the bottom line.
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"People are venting but not listening," Kaupins explains. "There is a weird contradiction with the proliferation of media where people only listen to what they want to hear. They often focus on media that offer a very narrow point of view, whether it's Fox News or The Huffington Post or on Facebook, where you can select only friends who take the same stand. You can become quite snarky when you only hear one side of things and don't listen to anybody else."
Snark has always been around, says Tanya Covert, human resource manager at Center Partners in Idaho Falls and director of the Idaho State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management. However, thanks to the Internet and social media, bad news has never traveled faster.
"We used to just share our negative opinions with a couple other people," Covert says. "Today, snark is easily transportable. You can send it out immediately, and hundreds if not thousands of other people can see it instantly."
Hidden behind the safety of a computer or smart phone, people toss out zingers and just walk away. This trend is forcing PR pros like myself to rethink how we operate. Advising clients to respond with "no comment" used to be inconceivable. Now we routinely suggest they ignore disparaging online comments to articles we've placed and to turn off comments on their Facebook pages, websites, and blogs until the heat dies down.
Since snark's not doomed to walk the path of the Dodo anytime soon, Covert says organizations must adapt.
"The current workforce is using social media, applicants are using social media, and if you're not using social media to highlight yourself as a preferred company, then you're missing the boat," she says. "Even worse, you're allowing other folks to own the conversation about what type of employer you are. But you can drown out the negative comments by posting the positive things you're doing and encouraging your employees to do the same."
You also can pledge to help put snark on ice - even if it's just for one day. Please join my colleagues in PRConsultants Group as we officially make Tuesday, Oct. 22, Snark Free Day. To learn more about how to circumvent snark, visit www.SnarkFreeDay.com.