By now, you’ve probably heard about how social media can impact your job search. With employers potentially looking at your profiles — including your Facebook and Twitter feeds among others — you know better than to post embarrassing pictures and profanity-filled status updates.
But the need for your online life to be professional and polite doesn’t end when you land a job. Even if you’ve been in your position for a while, what you post online can torpedo your career just as quickly as screwing up in the office. That doesn’t mean you can’t be yourself outside of working hours. It just means you have to be aware of how social media can affect your job and what you need to do to stay on your boss’s good side.
Limit Usage During Business Hours
If you have Internet access at work, you probably know that your employer is monitoring your usage. Chances are at some point, someone is watching where you go online, how long you stay there, and what you’re doing. Unless you have specific permission to do so, avoid updating your Facebook status, playing games or blogging during business hours. And don’t think that using your own device means you can log on any time you want. It’s not hard to figure out when a tweet was sent or a status updated, and if it’s done when you’re supposed to be doing something else, you could be in trouble.
Read, Understand and Follow Your Company’s Social Media Policy
Because social media is so pervasive, many companies have adopted specific policies regarding its usage. Some policies only pertain to who can post on the company’s behalf and what they can say, while others are more broad-based, setting rules about what employees can say about the company on their personal feeds. For example, your employer may determine that negative comments about your job or the company are grounds for discipline, while others require disclaimers on controversial remarks as a matter of policy. Before you post anything, even on your own personal feeds and time, understand your employer’s policies and the potential implications for your job.
Use Privacy Settings
Every social media site has tools in place that allow you to limit who can see your posts. Use them. For example, set your Facebook profile to be viewed by “Friends Only,” and take advantage of the features that allow you to customize who can see specific posts. That way if you have friended co-workers, but don’t want them to know that your “vacation” to another city was really for a job interview, you can restrict them from seeing those updates.
Be Selective in What You Post
While most career experts caution against becoming friends with your boss online, there’s a good chance that someone on your friends list is associated with your employer. For that reason, be selective in what you opt to post about your private life. Do you really want everyone in the office knowing you had a fight with your spouse last night or that you had a few too many tequila shots at a weekend party? Focus your posts on positive things that can help your career. For example, if you finish your master in public administration degree, complete a marathon or overcome a major challenge, post about it. People enjoy positive posts — and you won’t get into trouble at work.
Know What You’re Clicking On
When it comes to cybercrime like hacking and spreading viruses, social media is the new frontier. An innocent looking link in a tweet could contain malware — and clicking on it could open up your company’s network to a whole host of problems. Or that link that your friend sends you on Facebook might look totally safe, but if you click on it and it downloads pornography or something offensive, you could face disciplinary action. For that reason, use the same caution on social media that you would with e-mail or surfing the Web, and take care where you click.
There’s no doubt that social media has many positive attributes and is a useful tool for networking, staying in touch with friends and family, and sharing ideas. But when it comes to your career, use caution — a simple “TGIF!” post could land you in hot water, or even the unemployment line.
About the Author: Career counselor Caroline Samuelson is an expert in online reputation management and has helped dozens of professionals create and maintain their social media profiles. She blogs about career issues for a large employment site.