Far too many people tweet, “like,” and post items on the web without bearing in mind that their colleagues, managers and CEOs have access to the content.
A recent article by Mashable highlights some shocking tales of employees that lost their jobs solely based on their social media related antics. The victims include recent college graduates, famous athletes and well known politicans. Were these situations handled fairly? Did all of the individuals deserve to be fired for what they posted?
Whether the firing was fair or legal is a whole new discussion. However, it is important to realize that such incidents are occurring even if the company is not legally allowed to take such action. Whether your Facebook profile is private and your Twitter is only viewed by your followers, companies are quickly finding ways to get around privacy settings. Whether they know someone you are friends with or they pay Facebook to be able to view anyone’s profiles, you have little say over who views your online pages.
Social media is a beast of its own when it comes to hiring and career advancement. While a strong online presence is strongly encouraged when looking for new jobs or even advancing your career, proceeding with caution is strongly advised. While having a thousand followers, friends and connections is great to have your voice heard and show off your talents and wit, it is just as easy to get into hot water for even the smallest comment or re-tweet.
So where can we find the right balance between having a personality, being professional and having fun on the web?
Chuck the expletives the second you sign on to your computer: Regardless of whether you are sending an email to a less-than-capable colleague or are ranting about the state of the country’s finances and politicians, no working professional should curse on the web. If you do not want your company’s CEO hearing you swear, keep it off the web — chances are, it will get back to someone at your company. The second you sign an employer’s contract, you represent the company and are obligated to represent them appropriately — which includes the webosphere.
Be cautious of what companies you bad mouth on the Internet: If you just had the worst experience of your life flying a certain airline across the country, think twice before tweeting about it. Even if you work on the team that does not represent the company, as long as they are a client within your company, stray away from any negative comments about them on the web. While it is fine to voice your opinion about companies and brands, stay on the safe side by not mentioning those that effect your company or company’s clients.
Be mindful of the job and industry you are in: While an employee working for Pepsi may be able to get away with pictures from a night out on the town, a teacher enjoying cocktails with a friend may not be as well-received by her employers. Again, whether it is fair to be judged based on their after-work lives is not being questioned here. As mentioned in the Mashable article, school administrators do not want their teachers out drinking and posting pictures on their Facebook pages as they see it as a bad example being set. What is appropriate for your buddy online may be different for you based on your profession and employer.
Set up Google Alerts for yourself: Being a well-known industry expert or company executive opens the door to criticism by many on the web…and there is very little you can do about it. While a negative article or post about you may be too late to erase once it shows up online, at least you will know about the content and will not be caught off guard if you set up a Google Alert for yourself. With some prior warnings you can at least be prepared to answer any questions and offer an explanation.
Do not complain about your company, boss or colleagues online: This sounds so simple, yet is often not followed these days. We all have our bad days, and while you may like to share with your Facebook friends how horrible your company is to work for, it will come back and haunt you. A conversation that may be better over a cup of tea with a friend should not be transferred for thousands to hear online. Since you are posting it on the web, your are making it possible for everyone to find and therefore are jeopardizing your career and reputation. Similar to swearing online, if you do not want your company to see your thoughts about them, do not post it online. If it gets to a point where you cannot handle the frustration, talk to your bosses and consider your options.
In a world where the first impression is the last impression, think twice before tweeting, liking or posting online.
What do you recommend professionals do to maintain their online reputations?
Morgan Norman is the Founder and CEO of WorkSimple, a Social Goal management program, and is passionate about building the first performance management designed for all employees. Connect with him and WorkSimple on Facebook and Twitter.