A few small tweaks to our approach to social media use, from both employees and employers, can make a positive difference. While social media platforms are continuously working to refine users’ experiences, the ultimate control lies with a user themselves. Responsible use will make the biggest difference of all.
The line between our personal and professional lives is growing increasingly thinner. In previous eras, it was more difficult for employers to see the activities and views of their employees outside of the workplace: people’s private lives were a lot more concealed. The advent of social media has drastically changed the way people’s personal lives are visible and accessible to others in their employment environment, including clients, colleagues and bosses. This has been accompanied by work-related social media platforms such as LinkedIn, making it extremely easy to see where someone works and bringing the link between a person and their company into all online engagements.
It’s common these days to see someone post something illegal, defamatory or incorrect on a personal social media page, and very quickly have people track down where they work. This type of cross-identification means that companies are now hyper-alert to the online behaviours of their staff and are quick to dissociate themselves and bring disciplinary action for posts displaying poor judgement.
Social media has some very positive aspects, it just requires careful, considered use. Here are some helpful tips for navigating the world of social media as a professional:
Think before you post
The immediacy of posting online and getting validating feedback in likes, comments, retweets and shares can make it tempting to publish our posts on the spur of the moment. However, this is often what leads to trouble. Spontaneous posting could bring significant regrets in the future, especially if you have had anything to drink or are in a highly emotional environment, like at a sports match. While it may feel powerful to air your views as and when you like, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of typing out your post and then rather save it to drafts to review in a couple of hours. This will give you the space to evaluate whether what you’ve written or recorded is true, helpful and won’t become a headache for you, your employer or an innocent third party.
Remember you are talking to real people
Just because you are looking at a screen and not someone in front of you, don’t lose your awareness of the human element involved in online interactions.
A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t say something to someone in person, it’s best not to post it online.
Curate your audience
It’s also good to keep tabs on who your personal audience is. Stay abreast of privacy setting updates and explore the options on different platforms for keeping more personal information, like photos of your children or quirky hobbies, to a limited audience. It’s also good to periodically check who your followers are and do a cleanout if there are questionable characters following you online.
Of course, knowing who your direct audience is doesn’t stop posts from going public or being shared via screenshots, so curating your content and being careful about what you upload in the first place is the most important part of responsible social media use.
Erase past posts
What you thought was funny and appropriate at the age of 21 may not reflect well on you now. However, a potential employer could still see that content and it might affect your career prospects. Go back through past social media content and assess it with a fresh eye to see if you should delete any old posts that are inappropriate.
Employers, have a clear social media policy
For employers, it’s important to have very clear, easily accessible social media guidelines for your staff so that if there are any transgressions, you can act quickly and limit any damage to your brand’s reputation.
South African digital law expert Emma Sadleir says that clear social media policies allow companies to act when an employee hasn’t posted something illegal or overtly inappropriate, but which could still cause reputational damage to the company.
Hootsuite has a free template for a social media policy that you can use as a starting point.
FR (Rhys) Robinson, PhD is Executive Director, Infinitus Reporting Solutions (Pty) Ltd, provider of enterprise-wide consolidation, planning and reporting solutions