Let me be honest. Few things get me more hot under the collar than talk of deleting posts on social media.
I've been a social media professional for 11 years now, and if you ask anyone I've worked with you'll likely hear stories of times I've raised my voice and yelled something to the effect of, "No! We do not delete! Deleting indicates we have something to hide!"
I still believe that. If you post something and then delete it later, it's because you don't want someone to see it. But that makes zero sense because then you should never have posted it in the first place.
But things have changed. Social media has changed. Now we scrub our social media accounts to find the most offensive stuff and hope no one has seen it. Truth is, no matter how fast you are, someone else is faster. This should never be a thing you worry about, but in case it is, it's my job to help you make an informed decision.
PRO FOR DELETING: A CLEAN SLATE
If you posted something 10 years ago that you don't want people to see — maybe it's offensive or maybe it's just outdated — a clean slate sounds wonderful. If being offensive is something you are dealing with, use this as an important teachable moment. I've written repeatedly about something I coined years ago called "The Grandma Test": If it's something you wouldn't say to your grandmother, it doesn't belong on social media. While that sounds pretty strict, you won't be thinking that the next time you are questioning whether or not to delete posts. And please note: If you made it a habit of posting offensive content at any point in your social media history, you don't deserve a clean slate. You deserve to be scolded. But better to be scolded by me than a friend or, worse, an employer.
Trying to find things you need in a sea of thousands or tens of thousands of old posts is hard. Much like when you clean out that junk drawer in the kitchen, being able to find the spare key without digging through it like a wild animal is therapeutic. (That spare key story may or may not be based on real events.)
CON FOR DELETING: WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO HIDE?
That sigh of relief that comes with getting rid of content also comes with a stigma that you're trying to hide something. If it's truly a matter of spring cleaning, then fine. You'll likely need to convince some folks, but that's OK. I didn't always feel this way, but as hundreds of social media posts turned into thousands and then tens of thousands and more, keeping the store in order gets more difficult by the day. The social platforms haven't really given us a way to organize, and until they do, a little spring cleaning may be the next best thing.
But depending how much you have to delete, you could draw unwanted attention. Say you went through a period when all your posts weren't your best. If it occurred over a 6-month span, you could end up with a missing 6-month block of content. Much like that weird gap in a resume that makes employers and recruiters wonder what happened, this could raise red flags for people who lean on your every word.
As far as how to go about deleting posts? A quick search will reveal all kinds of third-party services (mostly paid, a few unpaid) that will delete them automatically. But use those with extreme caution, as some will automatically tweet that you are using the product to delete. When you give the program access to your account, you agree to this. Even though deleting can take time and effort, it might be worth it to do it on your own terms.
Also consider a blog post explaining what you are doing. If I decided to delete a bunch of my social media content, this is the route I would take. I believe transparency is vital in social media and any type of digital communication, whether it's on my Twitter feed or website. Of course, if you are deleting because you have something you want to hide, you may not consider this the best of advice. But in general, being up-front with the people who trust you is a great trait.
To delete or not to delete? You do you, but do everything you can to avoid it. That's really the best answer for everyone.
If you have a social media question or an idea for a column topic, please let me know. Tweet them to me with the hashtag #onsocialmedia or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org