Navigating relationships with our colleagues is complicated enough in the workplace. But in social media spaces, following or friending our coworkers or responding to their personal posts can sometimes blur the boundaries between what is helpful and what might be harmful.
While there’s no handy-dandy guidebook that offers all the right answers, there are certain principles we should respect when connecting online with people we work with. Because a social media gaffe can cost you a friendship, your reputation… or even your job.
Here are five basic rules to follow on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and whatever other platforms you favor.
- Never disparage your colleagues or your company. It doesn’t matter how upset you are about not getting that hoped-for promotion, or the snippy thing your manager said, or your teammate who doesn’t work as hard as you do. Social media is not the place to vent about professional grievances. When emotions are running high, you’re twice as likely to say something you’ll regret later. An online rant about your dissatisfaction isn’t only bad in the eyes of your present employers – it’s bad in the eyes of future ones as well. If you have an issue with someone or something in your company, face it in person, not on the internet.
- Remember: your followers can see everything you post. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that some managers use social media to monitor their employees when they’re concerned about absenteeism, for example. Let’s say you’ve taken a week-long medical leave from work. If your Instagram is suddenly peppered with photos of al fresco brunches or spa visits, your boss might have some serious questions for you upon your return. Even if your posts are innocent – you might be taking a break from work for mental health reasons, which certainly doesn’t mean you have to stay in bed all day – you’re sharing a portrait of your time that can be easily misinterpreted.
- Never post off-color, racist, sexist, or inappropriate comments.This rule is so obvious it shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but here we are. People make thoughtless comments that deeply offend other people all the time. Comments like these are particularly problematic if they concern your coworkers or clients. But if a very offensive comment goes viral, and is associated with your company, you may find yourself out on the street. No business wants the bad PR results from an employee’s offensive tweet or Facebook post.
- If you don’t want to be judged, don’t engage.One way to avoid the potential hazards of social media is to simply not engage online with coworkers at all. And that’s fine: you’re not required to invite managers or colleagues to follow your accounts. But if you do, know that you’re opening the door to receiving unwanted criticism and even incorrect assumptions. For example, if you often post about your personal accomplishments, some people might interpret it as bragging. Just because people follow you doesn’t mean they know you. Be selective about who you invite into your social media circle.
- Choose the right platform for what you want to say.Each social network has a different “personality”. LinkedIn is a professional space for job seekers and thought leaders, so you can safely talk to your colleagues there about your shared professional interests. Facebook, on the other hand, is usually a family-and-friends zone and can be an unsuitable platform to share with coworkers unless they are personal friends. Twitter and Instagram are the most likely candidates for sharing your likes, dislikes, and off-the-cuff comments with a select few colleagues (unless you’re in the social media business – then you should probably share your accounts with just about everyone!) One vital thing to remember: you may need to restrict access to what colleagues or bosses can see, so take some time to review your privacy settings. This will allow you to achieve a perfect balance between sharing and oversharing.