“Did I Post That?”: Being Professional on Social Media

What’s the Problem?

Posting on Facebook is important. Really. It helps us to keep up with distant friends and family, as well as to network and pursue opportunities in our professional lives. However, there is a difference between how we should DM our friends and how we should connect with our bosses and coworkers. Staying professional online can be a challenge, and deciding what is appropriate to share with which people is often a grey area. And, when we do accidentally post something inappropriate for the workplace, it can have a very negative impact on the way we are viewed by important business connections, recruiters, and employers. It has cost some the respect of their coworkers, and others their jobs. As daunting as it may seem, using social media should not be a tense and frightening activity, but should be fun and beneficial to our personal and professional relationships. Only common sense and a little caution are necessary.

Mindless Mistakes

Knowing the reality of making an unfortunate or ill-informed post on our social media accounts can help us understand the gravity of our words and actions online. What we say really does matter, especially to our employers and supervisors. One cringe-inciting example of making a major mistake on social media is that of a recent grad in 2009, Connor Riley. Riley, shortly after accepting a job at Cisco, a major technology company based in California, posted on Twitter that she would now have to “weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work” (Sun). This sentiment was not only seen by her friends and family, but by an associate at Cisco, who informed her that they would be making a visit to HR about her comment. Riley’s offer was most likely withdrawn, thereafter.

Posting something off-color or offensive is never appropriate and can have ramifications that extend far beyond workplace reputation. Gilbert Goddfried, the ex-voice of the Aflac duck (as seen in their numerous TV commercials), once tweeted some insensitive statements regarding a recent tsunami in Japan, in 2011. He joked, “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them” (Sun). The lack of sympathy and respect he showed for the Japanese people, who were struggling with a major catastrophe, was evident even to Goddried’s employers, who quickly relieved him of his position. Not everyone’s sense of humor is the same. It is crucial to consider if what we may think is funny, may actually be offensive or hurtful to others, and would be better left unsaid.

What Do We Do?

Deciding what is ok to post and say in front of our employers and coworkers can be tricky. What should they be able to see and know about in regards to our personal lives, hobbies, and interests? Here is a guide to help distinguish what to do and what not to do on our social media accounts in order to maintain a clean and professional appearance online:

1. Pay Attention to Privacy Configure privacy settings, so it is easy to monitor who requests to follow your account. This way you can control who sees what you post and say. Address any accounts that do not seem familiar or that write unwanted comments on your posts. Similarly, pay attention to pictures others tag you in. People can tag you in pictures without your permission, so it is crucial to un-tag yourself or request for the picture to be removed if it is embarrassing or detrimental to your image online.

2. What You Say Matters  When commenting on other people’s posts or direct messaging other people, make sure to use appropriate language. Avoid swearing, inappropriate slang, derogatory names and terms, and hate speech. Using colorful language can leave a bad impression on those who wish to learn more about you as an employee. In terms of conversation, try not to talk about sensitive or inflammatory topics that could easily incite conflict or outrage. Especially if you feel as if your opinion on the subject is unpopular. You have a right to express your opinion, but it is better not to purposely start fights online. This includes expressing support or condemnation via liking and commenting on certain posts, as well as following certain personalities online. Lastly, keep rude comments about coworkers, friends, and employers to yourself. Additionally, do the same for complaints about work, pay, and other people at work. This is pretty obvious — it looks bad when you criticize your place of work in public.

3. The Golden Rule Treat others how you want to be treated. This means being polite and civil in all exchanges you have online, whether it be replying to comments or conversations you have with others. In being polite, you should always respond quickly and thoughtfully to messages and questions. Stay positive and patient in your responses, taking care not to start arguments or say anything offensive, as seen in the previous rule.

4. Oversharing Overload These days, everyone seems to put their entire lives online. With all of the oversharing that happens on social media, overloading our followers with deeply personal information or hundreds of pictures per day is truly something to avoid. First and foremost, ensure that all pictures you choose to share of yourself online are both free of obscene images and embarrassing or revealing situations. You should be appropriately dressed, not participating in any illegal or dangerous activities, and not doing anything that could damage your reputation or that you would not want a coworker to know about. Finally, know what moments should be shared, and which should be kept private. Sensitive personal or family information or situations are all moments that usually should be kept to yourself.

In Conclusion

Don’t let social media scare you. Yes, it is important to consider what we post carefully and always try to present ourselves in the best possible way, but that does not mean that we have to constantly worry about what other people think about us online. Post about what matters to you, but always keep it clean and civil. Whatever you put online will be difficult to take back, so try not to show or say anything you would soon come to regret. Social media is a great tool to help us build relationships with others, and should be approached in the same way as any other tool; with a good understanding of how to use it properly. As members of CWIB, we can utilize our social media accounts to connect with each other, as well as with new job opportunities and other interesting organizations. Even if we use this tool every day, it is always helpful to remind ourselves of the impacts of our presence online and consider what we can do to improve how we approach such an integral part of our lives.