Original illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
We’re hardly naïve enough to think what we post on social media goes unnoticed—77% of employers admit to googling applicants pre-interview—but at what point do you actively blur the lines between work and social life and welcome your colleagues into your digital world?
Etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer says the rules are constantly evolving, but there are a few dos and don’ts that every employee should know. “Every organization has their own culture. Depending on that culture, both written and unwritten, there are certain expectations about personal posts and online presence in place,” she says. “While social media provides a glimpse into your private life, it has caused tremendous damage for the unwary, and may even let you fall in an oversharing trap.”
Unsure whether to friend your boss on Facebook or talk about your colleague’s latest post in the office? Take note of the six most common mistakes that will make you look unprofessional and how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Making a Personal, Not Professional, Decision
You might consider your boss a good friend, but that doesn’t mean they should be your friend on social media, says Schweitzer. “Remember that it’s business, not personal. Do you want your boss to see photos of your upcoming bachelorette party, girls’ weekend, or anniversary getaway?” Before sending your employer a friend request, she recommends asking yourself these three questions:
Will this request hinder my career? “This is the number one question everyone needs to keep in mind. Is it going to hurt your reputation and possibly the chances of promotion?” she says. If you tend to overshare on social media or your friends tag you in less-than-favorable memes, pause to consider how that might be perceived.
What is the organization’s policy on my request or response? “A good starting point is to double-check the company’s social media policy,” she says. Some companies insist that if your title or workplace is named, your profile could be scrutinized by management.
Are other employees friends with them? Schweitzer recommends browsing their profile to get a better idea of how your boss uses social media. “Are they friends with other employees? This will help gauge what type of interaction work colleagues have with them, and the interaction they may have with you.”
Mistake 2: Not Weighing the Pros and Cons
Like any decision that could impact your career, it’s important to consider the potential benefits and drawbacks. Before making a knee-jerk decision, Schweitzer says to think about these top seven pros and cons:
Pro: Leveraging social media to maintain your professional relationships.
Con: Cultural, political, sexual, or spiritual posts may cause awkward moments.
Pro: Cheerleading for the brand by posting organization updates and promotions.
Con: Family/friends may tag an embarrassing photo showing your lack of judgment.
Pro: Discovering more about the boss, including family, friends, and hobbies.
Con: The boss may scan your pattern of unprofessional, party-style posts.
Pro: Your boss discovers your other talents, stirring curiosity on a deeper level.
Mistake 3: Thinking You Have to Accept a Request
A colleague adds you on Facebook but you’re uncomfortable accepting the request—what should you do? According to Schweitzer, it is okay to politely decline, despite momentary awkwardness. The most common mistake employees make is ignoring the request, rather than addressing the issue. “Politely decline the request in person before ignoring the request,” she says. “At the office, in private, ask if you may visit with them for a moment. It’s prudent to let them know it is not anything personal, and that you don’t accept requests from current colleagues on social media,” she says.
Her top tip? Your social media stance should apply to all. “Keep in mind you will need to make a decision and be consistent about whether to friend all—or none—of your co-workers, not just some. Social media posts are ping-pong table conversation. Awkward situations arise when someone from accounting asks about the weekend concert you posted, but half of your workplace colleagues are clueless.”
Mistake 4: Not Curating Your Timeline
You’ve checked your company social media policy, can see that your colleagues are friends on Facebook, and have decided the pros outweigh the cons. Before you press send on your request, pause. “Do a clean-up first,” says Schweitzer. “Review your timeline and photos, and delete youthful indiscretions. While social media allows your superior to get to know your personality better, avoid giving the wrong impression. It’s okay to share brewery tour photos; it’s not okay to be tagged chugging several beers one after another or table-dancing in a dive bar.” Remember, you can keep those photos on your timeline but hidden from your colleagues by using manual privacy settings.
Mistake 5: Commenting on Posts
Just because you can see your colleague’s personal posts doesn’t mean it’s okay to comment on them. There’s a line, says Schweitzer. “Never comment on negative aspects of their life. Just because the boss may post or rant about current events, business, family or friends, it is inappropriate to join in because the tide may turn and you are left having committed to a tricky conversation.”
The main rule of thumb: “If it is business related and public knowledge, for example company parties and promotions, it is appropriate to ‘like’ or make a positive comment,” she says. “Doing so shows you are a team player. Making a comment on every post is overkill.”
Mistake 6: Talking About Social Activity at Work
Less is more when it comes to bringing up your boss or colleagues’ social lives in the office. “Avoid mentioning potentially embarrassing posts, less-than-flattering photos, or anything else that can be seen as ‘workplace gossip.’ While technology has changed, the unwritten rules of appropriate workplace socializing have not.”