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How to avoid social networking blunders 05/09/2011

Although networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter have become pervasive in our personal lives, many people may not have given much thought to the potential impact of social networking on their professional lives.

How to avoid social networking blunders

Click to jump to section

  1. Social media for work?
  2. How to protect your professional reputation
  3. Maintain boundaries on social media

Social media for work?

Are you aware of your employer’s policy on visiting social networking sites while at the office? Do you take measures to keep your personal and professional life separate when it comes to social networking?

Many companies are still charting their course when it comes to social media, according to a recent survey of more than 1,400 chief information officers by Robert Half Technology. More than half of those polled (54 per cent) said their companies do not allow employees to visit social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter for any reason while at work. However, 19 per cent permit access only for business purposes; 16 per cent allow limited personal use; 10 per cent permit access for any type of personal use and 1 per cent either didn’t answer or didn’t know of a company policy.

Employers have competing interests and concerns when it comes to social media in the workplace. On the one hand, most people would agree that these sites have the potential to divert employees’ attention from pressing work priorities. Businesses also have legitimate concerns about various internal and external risks that could arise from employees accessing social networking sites with company computers, ranging from the possible disclosure of confidential company information to concerns that these sites might provide additional outlets for workplace harassment to occur.

How to protect your professional reputation

At the same time, many firms are embracing social media as a tool for marketing, recruiting and client contact, which makes it problematic to completely block employee access to certain sites. In an effort to strike a balance, some companies - about one-in-five, according to the Robert Half survey - allow their employees to use social media at work for business purposes only.

Even if your company has yet to formulate its own policies on social media usage, career-minded professionals will want to observe their own good-sense guidelines. Consider these tips for protecting your professional reputation when it comes to mixing social media and work: 

  • Know what’s allowed. Assuming your company has formal rules on social networking, be sure you understand exactly what they entail. Clarify any ambiguity that may exist so that you don’t inadvertently violate any policies. 
  • Don’t over tweet (or post) on the job. Even if the social networking policy at your office is lenient or non-existent, it may be wise to curb your personal usage at work. If you feel compelled to post frequent status updates, confine your activity to your smartphone during your lunch hour or other personal breaks. 
  • Use discretion. Professionals should exercise caution even when using Facebook and other social networking sites away from the office. Be familiar with the privacy settings of every service you use and recheck them periodically to ensure your settings have kept pace with site updates. You’ll want to be careful that your personal details and photos are viewed only by the intended audience, not by everyone in your office or on your client roster. In the same vein, avoid the temptation to vent publicly about your job, even if you’re doing it on your own time. You never know when something you’ve posted could be leaked. 
  • Be careful about blurring the lines between personal friends and colleagues. It may seem like a natural extension of amiable office relationships to 'friend' everyone you work with, but think twice before doing so. Not everyone is comfortable with using sites such as Facebook to connect with professional contacts.

    A Robert Half survey found that nearly half of executives (48 per cent) said they would feel uncomfortable being “friended” by the employees they manage or, for that matter, their bosses (47 per cent). The line between personal and professional has become increasingly fuzzy as more people use social networking websites for business purposes.

    Therefore, it’s wise to be prepared for these types of requests and have a plan for handling them. Rather than slighting professional contacts who send you a friend request, consider accepting these requests but creating a “work” or “professional” list and making use of privacy settings to control what personal details and posts they can view. You could also direct them to make contact via a professional networking site such as LinkedIn.
     
  • Share your knowledge. If you enjoy social media and are knowledgeable about using it for business purposes, consider offering to contribute to your company’s efforts in this area. Assuming your employer approves, you might want to tweet or blog about a topic related to your area of expertise. This can enhance your professional reputation as well as that of your company.

Maintain boundaries on social media

Although social media sites have exploded in popularity, career-savvy professionals should tread carefully when it comes to using these tools.

Despite their many benefits in helping people connect with one another, they also have the potential to present career complications if you’re not careful to maintain smart boundaries between the personal and professional aspects of your life.

Jason Giller, senior manager, Robert Half Technology

Jason Giller, senior manager, Robert Half Technology

Jason Giller is senior manager at Robert Half Technology. He has witnessed all phases of the employment and economic cycle first-hand and is an expert on the recruitment trends within the information technology field.