Social media is an inevitable part of life today. We’re connected to our friends, colleagues, family, and — grudgingly – in-laws. At the touch of a button, we share images of our holidays or a particularly delightful meal, and publicly share our thoughts about everything from the latest blockbuster or political candidates.
But before you publish, you might want to think about who your friends are — and whether they’re really your friends. Those photos and updates you share might put you in an awkward personal or professional situation.
The concept of “friending” makes our relationships all seem equal. But the fact is that the relationships you have with your best friends are far more real than those you have with the person in the cube next to you at work.
But blurring the lines between personal and professional, between friends and family, could put you in an awkward position. An innocent post about a fun evening out could result in a raised eyebrow from an eagle-eyed mother-in-law. A post about a successful job interview might have a ripple effect when one of your coworkers spills the beans.
But those are the obvious connections you consider, right? There’s another layer to think about.
Depending on your privacy preferences, those connections attached to your friends can see the comments you make or images you post. While your coworker might be a trusted confidant, their “like” of your job interview post could be seen by any number of coworkers who aren’t your allies.
And if someone tags you in a photo enjoying a night out, there’s an entire network of people who might know your beverage of choice without you wanting.
All those instances might seem simple — until or unless you’ve accidentally violated a company policy, endangered a potential job, or unknowingly caused a rift.
Managing Privacy Preferences
These very situations were why Google+ came up with the idea of social circles — that what your best friend knows might not be good for the mother-in-law, and the same goes for your boss versus your bestie at the office.
But Google+ isn’t the only network where you can manage your social interactions. In Facebook, you can manage the tiers of people who can see what you post, where you’re tagged, and more.
Those fun features where you can check in to a restaurant or concert are great for friends — not so great if you called in sick that day and your boss is a “friend.”
It’s not only about what you post in the future, but also your past. A curious connection can find out when you got married, where you’ve vacationed … and more. If you’re not willing to share everything openly in the “real world,” then it might be wise to set privacy preferences and evaluate your social media history.
Professional and Personal Liability
This all sounds like worst-case scenario, doomsday stuff, right? Well, hopefully not. Better to look at it as potential reality.
If your employer has a policy about public intoxication, a picture of you at happy hour — conveniently displayed next to biographical information that lists your job — you could be in a delicate situation, even if the photo is years old. By listing your employer publicly, you’re connecting yourself — and your social history — to your employer.
It’s a two-way street, too. If your supervisor is politically active online, it might get really uncomfortable at work, particularly if you disagree. Sometimes it might be better not to know everyone’s thoughts.
Those might all sound like trivial examples, but social media can get serious. It’s not just about you — it could be about your family. Cyberbullying claims are entering the courts, and your child’s speech could make you personally liable. Social media history is scoured after a drunk driving or wrongful death incident — anything to establish liability and fault. That rollicking post of friends having fun can become quite serious down the road.
That’s not to say social media can’t be fun. It can. But exercise some judgment to protect yourself from personal and professional damage:
- Think about whom you want to friend on each social network. A friend for Facebook might not be the right fit on LinkedIn, and vice-versa.
- Limit privacy preferences and social circles so your personal activities stay where they belong.
- If you’re entering a career where discretion is important — let’s say you’re going to become an elementary-school teacher — it might be wise to do an audit of your past posts to remove anything unflattering.
- Read your company’s social media policy and make sure you’re following it to the letter.