How to Avoid Hurting Your Career With Social Media

Q: I’m sometimes pretty casual with what I post to Facebook and Twitter. Do you have some general advice about using social media so I can avoid damaging my career?

In today’s environment when everyone’s competing intensely to advance and get raises, everything you do counts. And so you need to pay more attention to all your communications, from emails to voice mails to yes, Twitter messages and Facebook status updates. In a world with less and less face to face communication, you have to be a lot smarter about how you interact with and message people. And the reality is that the line between the personal and the private is blurring. So something you think is appropriately private may go public, or something personal may surface in your work environment. As a result, these new messaging platforms are areas you need to pay extra special attention to. I’d also think hard about what types of discussions require face to face communication, such as if you’re presenting a big or complicated idea, or perhaps offering criticism that someone may be sensitive to. In fact, I’d say you should almost make face to face communication your default mode where possible.

I once advised a manager at a financial institution who, in the heat of the moment, tweeted a derogatory comment about his boss. Although he thought it was a direct message, somehow the tweet got around and his boss wound up putting him on probation because of it. I tried to advise him to explain to his boss the circumstances of the message and how he would work to repair the relationship, but to little avail, since the situation continued to deteriorate and he was eventually fired.

The lesson is that you have to really think about who’s seeing your messages, information, and photos when you’re sending them out, and become more aware of how it impacts your image and brand. So if you’re out partying, maybe you should make sure to not appear too drunk or have too many bottles of alcohol in the photo. Even setting careful privacy settings on social networks is no guarantee, since you don’t know what kind of privacy settings your friends have set on their profiles. So you need to choose your friends and contacts on these social networks wisely, and be cognizant of who your information is going out to and what impression it forms of you. 

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