5 Ways You Can Go Wrong with Social Media at Work

Social media is the greatest thing for the working class since the water cooler.

In a 10-minute break we can update our Facebook status, comment on our cousin’s photos and share links to new Muppet videos. But there are professional uses too. You can research solutions to problems, make new connections in your field and keep up with industry developments. There is a case to be made for using social media at work.

Hopefully you won’t have to make such a case at work. It’s tempting for management to restrict and prohibit you from accessing social networking sites. They don’t want you wasting time. But Brad Lawwill, general counsel of Pierce Promotions in Portland, Maine, advocates reasonable social media policies that don’t interfere with employees’ lives.

For example, don’t dictate that you can’t ever talk about your job or check your networks from the office. Lawwill says management is going to create more work for itself than it’s worth. Instead, managers should apply existing policies to social media use.

You probably already have a policy covering breaks and using company resources such as e-mail and the phone for personal use. Those can be applied nicely to your time spent on Facebook or Twitter.

If your boss says social media is fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with work, you’re in luck. Enjoy the freedom and the Mafia Wars. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble. This is a minefield you can navigate safely but be aware of a few mines you don’t want to trigger.

NSFW – Not Safe For Work

Do I really need to explain why you can’t use the work computers to collect porn? It’s a hostile workplace lawsuit waiting to happen. So you’re not going to watch porn at work.

But what about dirty jokes and sexy pictures? It’s not exactly porn. And it’s shared between consenting adults. But you don’t know who in the office is going to object. Just like telling off-color jokes in a meeting, something a little spicy could be enough reason for someone to file a complaint.

This is where your friends can get you into trouble. Even if you swear off surfing for bikini-model photo collections, you may be connected to someone who wants to share the art form with you. Make sure you avoid those kinds of updates at work.

Your Real Boss is Not a Foreman in Farmville

Even if your updates are totally safe for work, you can’t spend too much time on Twitter or Facebook. This probably is your manager’s biggest concern. Every supervisor looks for the time sucks that can waste productivity. And Facebook is built to distract you from getting any work done.

This is easy for management to track and see how you spend your time. Track your time before your boss does, and cut yourself off.

Discretion is Appreciated

Not everything you do at work is safe to share with your networks. There may be confidentiality expectations – especially when clients are involved. They may not appreciate your updates about what they’re doing when they expect discretion. And your employer may expect the same.

Be careful when talking about your job. Don’t share client’s names unless it already is acknowledged by your company publicly. Make sure you’re not about to share trade secrets. And it’s not a bad idea to become familiar with the contracts with clients. They often are specific about publicity.

Don’t Out Your Boss as a Jerk

In addition to being perfect for providing distractions, social media is built for distributing snarkiness. Your feeds and lists are full of friends rushing to prove how clever they are one snarky and sarcastic phrase at a time. So you’re forgiven if you fire off a zinger or two.

Just don’t make it about work. You don’t want to keep apologizing and explaining yourself to your coworkers and your boss. I know making fun of your boss is a national past time. So do it at happy hour or in a break room when you know he is out of earshot. Don’t write it on a wall that everyone and their human resource department can read.

Not only does it fail to impress current management, but it won’t look good to hiring managers when you re-enter the job market. Clients won’t be impressed either when they see employees trashing the company they’re expected to pay.

Speaking of clients, you don’t want to say anything negative about them either. I don’t care if you do it at home on your personal account. They can’t restrict your freedom of speech but they don’t have to pay someone who is going to criticize them publicly. Would you?

Don’t Make Yourself Look Like a Jerk Either

Did you read Mark Garrison’s column on getting promoted? It’s good advice that can get you far. But all that effort can be erased by the pictures of you from reggae night at your favorite bar. What you do in your personal time should be kept personal. Hard to argue that when unprofessional photos are published on social networks.

And it doesn’t take a photo to make you look like a knucklehead. Off-color remarks or stories about the weekend partying can create negative impressions also.

Some of this really isn’t new. The standards of decorum and manners still apply. Don’t write something on a wall that you wouldn’t say to your boss or a local reporter. It’s easy these days to become an unofficial spokesperson for your employer. Maybe it’s not fair but it’s what is happening.

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Carl Natale is a freelance blogger who writes about tips and advice for small businesses. He runs the site Expensiccino.com - a site about how top brands set their prices.


  1. Kevin Groenendaal on the 10th May

    I remember this during work! Enjoyed your article 🙂

  2. rad Zad on the 10th May

    nice article.. keep update

  3. Sam Evanson on the 10th May

    nice article, we had a few cases under my previous employment where people in the office where all into the mafia wars on Facebook….ended up putting blocks on the site, which was a real shame for all who didnt abuse it.

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