Have you seen the mega-hit movie The Social Network, (loosely) based upon Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg? This film is a very vivid reminder of where this phenomenon has taken us in just a few years — and its far reaching impact. There’s no doubt about it: social media has revolutionized the way we work and play. It has enhanced our communications, improved our businesses, allowed us to “win friends and influence people” more easily and expanded our visibility exponentially. I mean, what’s not to love about it?
But before you bask in that warm, fuzzy feeling that social media seems to offer, you might want to take note of a few drawbacks as well. Just like money, the love of it can be either good or evil, depending upon how it is used. For example, folks who are enamored with it and see it as a way to exercise freedom of speech — by spouting off about their “idiot” employers, their “Animal House” partying behavior, illegal acts, and other escapades, have lost jobs, faced criminal prosecution, and have ultimately realized that “all that glitters is not gold”. Remember these social media missteps?
- The woman who shoplifted and posted pictures to Facebook of the stolen goods?
- The teacher who was “schooled” the hard way when he vented about the “ghetto parents” of some of his students through his blog?
- The flight attendant who got her wings clipped when she discussed some of the downsides of her job?
- The politician who wasn’t prudent when he “bared all” online.
Be forewarned: if not approached wisely, the next casualty could be you. With this in mind, here are a few ways to increase your social media savvy, be more productive, and face fewer professional and personal repercussions as a result of a social media misstep.
1. Err on the side of caution.
Sure you’re grown, and in America we have the right to express how we feel. Right? Still, even Freedom of speech ain’t entirely “free”. Weigh whether or not what you say publicly could be misperceived or cause offense, and potentially be grounds for termination if read by the wrong set of eyes. Consider too that when you are employed by others, you represent their business. So to some extent your online image becomes their business as well.
2. Implement the appropriate privacy settings.
Consider controlling who has the ability to view your information by applying the right privacy settings to your sites and forum pages, or by requiring code access when applicable.
3. Consider an alias.
If you really must voice opinions that are revolutionary and/or contradictory, you might want to have an online name and identity different than the one you use for business affairs. Remember that doing this doesn’t necessarily make it impossible to find out who you really are. which leads to the next point…
4. Keep certain things offline.
Know that revealing confidential info online about your employer or clients to settle a score, vent, or to stimulate conversation, might not only get you fired but sued. As many places require employees to sign confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment.
5. Keep in mind that a “picture is worth a thousand words.”
Even if you don’t say negative things online, photos and images tell a story as well. For instance, snap shots on Facebook where you might be posing in provocative, sheer clothing, flashing a gang sign or the middle finger salute, or video- demonstrating a sexy new dance you just learned, might not be a good idea.
6. Never reveal your real home address in your contact info.
Even if you’re seeking employment through social media, it’s wise to use a P.O. Box. Why? For safety reasons obviously, but also, fair or not, some folks judge us by where we live as well. Things like the type of neighborhood, the income level of the residents, whether it’s integrated, the crime rate, etc. can play a role in how you are perceived. Don’t stack any odds against you.
7. Recognize that your online associations matter.
There is a grain of truth to the expression, “we are judged by the company we keep.” This now applies to your online life just as much as it does in your “offline” life. Choose your associations wisely.
8. Watch your mouth.
Refrain from any war of words with clients and colleagues, and usage of profanity, threats and strong language.
9. Be strategic.
Use social media to announce projects you’re working on, awards won, promotions, or to showcase your creative strengths. If the time you have to devote to social media is limited, learn to work smarter, not harder.
10. Save the majority of “socializing” for after-work hours.
Remember, it’s not just what you do but how you do it. Being too social with your online identities while working can not only cause a severe lack of productivity, but get you in hot water with your superiors. Pick your spots.
11. Pause before you publish.
Always be mindful that what you do online has an indefinite shelf life. While that can work to your advantage if you’ve put some great stuff out there on the web, it can also work against you if you’ve put something questionable up as well.
Social media may seem daunting at first, but it really is just another means of communication. If you’re active in social media, keep these 11 tips in mind and you’ll benefit from all that it has to offer — and you’ll optimize your online image as well.
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