BY PAMELA EYRING*
(Reuters-WASHINGTON) I recently spent eight days in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) conducting training under the patronage of The Protocol Department - Dubai.
One of the most striking things about the experience was the abundance of Blackberries, iPhones, and other digital devices seemingly in the hands of the entire populace.
I even noticed when I met with one of the UAE Rulers that he carries his iPhone like a warrior with a weapon.
I also noticed that in the UAE, protocol dictates stashing your digital device during face-to-face conversations and when making large, and small, business presentations - it's considered rude and shows disinterest to do otherwise.
Yet, when I travel in the US and to other countries (for business and pleasure), mobile devices stay firmly in-hand, not just for checking email or headlines but to visit social networking sites.
It's important when courting international partners to realize that potential allies will surf the net for every nugget of information they can find on you and your company.
According to Twitter, more than 60 percent of users are from outside the US, while more than 70 percent of Facebook users reside outside the US Both companies are incorporating more languages to help boost usage in low-growth regions.
This has resulted in explosive growth - more than 4,300 percent in Taiwan, more than 3,800 percent in Brazil, and more than 2,900 percent in Thailand. And that's just the past two years!
This brings me to today's crucial mandate.
Be vigilant about maintaining a clean virtual image, especially if, like me, your business crosses international borders.
Yes, there's LinkedIn and other professional sites, but don't fool yourself. Facebook is not personal or private and it will be viewed and used by others to form an opinion about you.
Facebook privacy settings are minimal and need to be manually set for "˜high privacy'. There's simply no need for business contacts to see a photo of you in swimwear or downing a beer at your in-law's pool party.
Remember, a seemingly harmless image in your personal life can undo business opportunities in countries where drinking and scant dressing are taboo.
Tip: The best way to avoid any digital mis-steps is to take a proactive approach to networking - and all things business related - by asking business contacts to connect with you on a business platform like your web site or LinkedIn, where you should always have a recent "˜professional photo' of yourself.
If a business associate that you don't have a personal relationship with invites you to join their personal network, direct them to your business platform.
To avoid offending them, explain that you check your business platform (i.e., LinkedIn, web site) more frequently.
In addition to profile management, be mindful of any post you toss into the blogosphere, the Twittersphere, YouTube, MySpace or any other Newbie Digital Fare. Things can go awry if you are either inappropriate or too quick on the trigger.
Take for example the advertising executive who inadvertently sent a tweet from his client's account (a major US automobile manufacturer) instead of his own.
The use of profanity and criticism of the manufacturer's drivers all in one sentence elicited profound results.
Although the executive quickly realized his mistake and deleted the post, the damage was done.
Soon, the client's followers re-tweeted the faux pas and in short order the tweet found its way to numerous blogs and the desks of the agency's client as well as agency execs. The outcome was costly - the agency lost a very big account.
Even if the executive had tweeted from his personal account there would have been consequences. Virtually all social media content is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime and nothing is truly private, nor can it be permanently deleted.
So, whether you are a recent college grad on the job hunt or the CEO of a major company, here's the Digital Golden Rule:
If you wouldn't print out the message or duplicate the photo or post the video under your own name and distribute it to every business contact you can think of, don't post it, tweet it, or upload it.
* Pamela Eyring is president and director of The Protocol School of Washington, which provides certified professional etiquette and protocol training. The opinions expressed are her own. PSOW's website is http://psow.edu