Somewhere on the walk back from the karaoke bar to our hotel in Montreal, one of the other younger members attending the ASCE conference with me turned and exclaimed, “I hope none of the pictures from that experience make it on Facebook.” Photos of an off-key performance of Love Shack are probably tame enough for friends and family, but this sparked a longer conversation the next day about social media. Almost everyone I spoke with could relate a story of a friend or colleague who found themself in trouble by sharing too much information on Facebook. A few people were also known to have been fired for inappropriate content.
One of my former college classmates became somewhat infamous for being fired from Google after posting sensitive information on his blog. This was back in 2005, before Facebook made it easy for anyone to share too much information with his or her online community. I keep that story in the back of my mind any time I consider posting something controversial on this blog or my personal social media profiles.
Many people are not as discerning, and I see a big generation gap on this issue. I don’t want to be a scold, but all users of social media should consider that they make a lot of private information public. I cringe at a lot of the activities that friends and family are willing to share even with me. Do you really want me to know how much you had to drink last night? And don’t give me the details of your relationship that would make even Dr. Drew blush.
Even if you consistently apply the various privacy settings that Facebook makes available, understand that there can be leaks within your trusted network. My sister found this out the hard way when she decided to pull a prank on her close friends by announcing she was engaged in her relationship status line. Within hours she received a phone call from her 90-year old grandmother offering counseling on a rash life choice. The family phone tree can work faster than the digital message board.
With these anecdotal stories in mind, I did some research on how employers view social media. Could your social exploits cost you a job? According to a 2012 CareerBuilder.com survey 37% of employers check social media before hiring. When asked why, 65% of hiring managers said they were looking to see whether a candidate presents himself or herself professionally online. This is a reflection on how he or she will work with colleagues and deal with clients. For those candidates whose chances a new job were cut short because of the information on their profiles, 49% had posted inappropriate pictures and 45% described excessive drinking or drug use.
Another survey found that an even more damning social media practice is to bad-mouth current or former colleagues and management. It’s never a good idea to berate a colleague or boss on social media. Even if the object of your scorn isn’t in the network, my guess is you have another colleague among your friends that may not see things your way. Clients should likewise never be mentioned negatively in social media. For anyone else competing for clients or a promotion, details on improper client relations is irresistible leverage. Keep in mind that it’s a small world in your industry. Information and reputation spread quickly with or without social media. It’s better that only positive info can be found in writing.
All that said, there are many positive uses for social media. I know of several people who used LinkedIn to find their next job. In fact, our most recent hire was notified of the opening though a posting in a Linked-In group. I’ve personally found it very rewarding to include colleagues and clients among my Facebook friends. When you get to the point that you can truly consider the people you work with to be friends, it much improves the hours spent in the office. Use social media as a force for good and the potential for this new media can be incredible.