With social media having become an essential tool for professionals in today’s work environment, it’s almost hard to imagine that two decades ago, it barely existed. Back then, Six Degrees was the first recognized social medial network with about one million profiles. Today Facebook is the king of social media platforms; according to Forbes, Facebook alone has more than 2.5 billion users while there exists about 3.7 billion users globally across different social media platforms. The latest statistics in the United States alone reveal that the average person spends about two hours a day on social media.
Now, what does this mean?
For starters, it means that almost every age group is plugged in daily. From teens to seniors, everyone is online for professional or social purposes, or both. More importantly, these statistics reflect a new reality in the business world: Whether you are a small business owner, an international company, an entrepreneur, an employee, or simply a professional looking for work, you will be using some form of social media either to promote yourself or your business.
While being active on social media has its perks, it can be a minefield if not handled properly. Professional and personal relationships can easily overlap, carrying risks of confidential information being disseminated, propriety issues, and sharing wrong information about an employer. For that reason, employees and professionals have to exercise reasonable caution while handling both their personal and professional social media accounts. Here are some do’s and don’ts on social media for professionals.
Separate business and personal profiles
While there is a thin line between business and professional profiles’ uses, it is advisable to separate them when possible. If your job requires you to have a social media presence, then do not post your photos clubbing with your friends on that account.
To clarify matters even further, you can put a disclaimer on your personal account stating that all views mentioned on this account are personal and have nothing to do with any affiliation with your employer and that any opinion presented does not represent your employer’s view or policy.
In addition, Mariam Moussa, executive and leadership coach, founder of PROCIJ, a leadership and culture transformation coaching organization, recommends being extra careful if your role is critical to your company’s brand identity. So if you are the CEO of your company, or hold a senior position, make sure to separate the different hats you are wearing when expressing a certain opinion on social media. She explains that it could be very confusing to your audience if you are not clear whether or not the opinion expressed is personal or represents your company’s policies and regulations.
Mind your language on your business profile
Moussa explains that your language on your social media business profile is extremely critical since people receive communication messages differently according to their backgrounds and beliefs. She advises that creating a good impression requires thinking carefully about each word that you post on social media and how people will perceive the messages in those posts.
“One must look at perception and how perceptions are created. We develop our own filters of interpretation based on our previous experiences, values, beliefs systems and personalities. Human brains tend to create meanings for everything they see, so if a meaning isn’t given to something, one will be made up which is the perception. Given that, what I think is normal for me, would not be seen the same way by my boss, colleague, or team,” Moussa elaborates.
For that reason, she stresses the importance of being respectful, objective and very careful with the wording in business related posts.
Familiarize yourself with how different platforms are used differently
While general decency, common sense, and usual offline courtesy are the basic rule, it is important to understand how each platform works in order to optimize its use and avoid mistakes. Each social media platform has more convenient content and focus for getting the most favorable return from it. For instance, it is important to understand what to include in direct messaging on Twitter. On the other hand, on LinkedIn you need to focus more on when and who to connect with. There are some essential rules that are platform-specific that you need to understand.
While these are the basic rules, Moussa argues that there is almost no rule for what is right or what is wrong to post on different platforms. “So the choice is ours to be conscious and responsible of the perceptions we create and feed,” she explains. While being strictly professional on LinkedIn is more acceptable, sharing something personal could be beneficial if it will enhance the relationship with your connections. So we need to be smart about the impact that we intend to create on different platforms.
On the other hand, she adds that when in doubt it is better to be safe and keep what’s business to business and what’s personal to personal. There are diverse social media platforms, each created for a different purpose and that’s how they should stay.
Be aggressive in your reactions
Nermine Fawzy, co-founder and senior partner at Foster Edge, a hands-on management firm focused on people, organizations and technology, explains that professionals need to manage their reactions and their tone on social media.
“When expressing your opinion about a certain experience or a certain issue, it is one thing to articulate your concerns and another thing to react aggressively and use inappropriate language.” she explains.
In general, how you react on social media and how you express your opinions says a lot about you and indicates how you would react in real life. It can harm your reputation and haunts you down the road if you go wrong about this. Fawzy mentions that it has become a standard practice for employers to look at the profiles of potential candidates for a certain job. Accordingly, it is imperative to be very conscious about when and how to engage in certain arguments, and how you express your opinions on social media.
Fawzy advises that it’s better to stay away from controversial subjects on social media especially if you have a public profile. This usually involves politics and religion and sometimes sports.
Unless you work in one of these domains do not engage in public arguments about them. These types of engagements could harm you especially if you are applying for a job that requires protecting clients’ information or where you will be providing expert’s opinion. An employer seeing those types of social media debates could have doubts about you having the ability to provide an objective unbiased professional opinion.
Overshare personal information or spam
Since your social media profiles represent your personal brand, you do not want them to be boring or superficial. The easiest way to lose your connections and followers and even potential employers is to keep sharing your personal information every 30 seconds. Newsfeeds that have what you eat for breakfast every day, or pictures of you posing and saying how you feel 24/7, will probably cause more harm than good.
Fawzy explains that our new reality is an interrelated personal and professional life that is reflected in our social media profiles. She adds that as human beings we have different dynamics but we do not have different personalities. In other words, you cannot be one person in the morning and a totally different one at night. You need to think about that when you are posting on your personal account at 3:00AM. You should understand that anyone out there [a potential customer or employer maybe] could see what you are posting on your personal account at anytime of the day or night.
So even if your account is strictly personal, it is still a part of how you present yourself to the world [including your current employer or a potential one]. You want the world to see your best qualities and the best version of yourself.
A final word
Social media is a very powerful tool if utilized efficiently and respectfully. Indeed, it boils down to respect and following proper etiquette when you connect with other users on any social media platform. Respecting others’ privacy and points of view, avoiding guerrilla marketing for yourself, and showing objectivity and reason when expressing your opinions are simply indicators of how well you interact with people in real life. However, in social media we should even be additionally cautious since this high-tech world is much faster and anything you post has a big multiplier effect and a huge reach to a lot of people. In other words, one misrepresentation of yourself has the potential to go global in a few hours without you even realizing it.