Think Before You Post

How to keep social media from hurting your career.

In January, the Pew Research Center released data from its September 2014 study indicating multi-platform social media use is on the rise, with “52 percent of online adults now using two or more social media sites.”

Facebook continues to dominate, but Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn each saw increases in user numbers.

With more than 71 percent of Internet users engaging on social media daily and often multiple times per day, it’s common practice for current or future employers to search the social media channels of employees and job candidates. And then of course there’s the fact that no matter how meticulous you are about keeping professional and personal business separated, chances are you have one or two colleagues, managers or clients in your social media friend or follower lists.
With those things in mind, it’s essential to remember a few key points of online etiquette that can make or break your career.

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Policy issues
First and foremost, read and educate yourself on your employer’s social media policy. The depth, rules, restrictions and level of engagement will of course vary depending on the company or industry, but ignorance of the policy is no excuse for breaking it.

Paige Tomas-Suffel, digital and social media specialist for a Texas-based healthcare organization, says her company regularly monitors what is said about the organization and its affiliates.

“If an employee is found doing something less than savory on social media, human resources will meet with them to discuss how or if their behavior online meshes with our organization’s mission, vision and values statements,” says Tomas-Suffel.  “If an employee is just complaining about having a bad day, not grounds for anything. We all have those days. If an employee is found to be complaining about his or her coworkers in a severe way, we look into it.”

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Knowing your company’s policy and understanding that, regardless of your privacy settings, a post can be shared by friends, followers and in some cases by strangers can head issues off at the pass. Also, it may seem obvious, but don’t post anything that can be considered confidential, proprietary or that could violate the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (in other words, employee health information, which includes, but is not limited to, for example, information about a co-worker’s pregnancy).

About those privacy settings
Aside from not having any social media accounts or not posting to your existing accounts, keeping on top of your privacy settings is an important, but not impenetrable, line of defense. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, among others, each allow users to keep accounts invisible to anyone not on your approved friend or follower list. Facebook offers various levels of privacy, which often change, so familiarize yourself, learn who can see what on your page and make it a habit to periodically check your settings.

That said, it’s better to err on the side of caution and adopt the policy that if you wouldn’t want your boss to read or see it, don’t post it to social media. For example, if you are a bartender or a party planner, it’s probably OK to post photos of yourself at a social gathering with an adult beverage. Doctors or people who operate heavy machinery, however, might want to put down the wineglass for photo ops, even if you don’t plan to post the photo to your own social media account. Obviously, every company has its own culture and policies, so again, be aware of what’s acceptable and what is not.

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Oversharing and the pitfalls of politics
According to its 2012 multi-country study on the state of mobile etiquette and digital sharing, Intel reports nine out of 10 adults in the United States believe people are sharing too much information about themselves online. As a rule, it’s best to keep medical conditions and treatments, bodily functions, the sordid details of relationships, off-color jokes and memes, and political opinions off your various feeds.

During elections in particular, remember this other tidbit from the Intel study: 39 percent of U.S. adults say they choose not to associate with people whose opinions they disagree with online.

Yes, we enjoy the right of free speech in America, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences when we exercise that right. One of which is your employer’s right to fire you, especially in a right-to-work state such as Louisiana. When in doubt, be judicious, both in real life and online.

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