You might think your social media life is private. Why should your boss care about your latest Instagram Story or what you post on Facebook?
But the reality is that information you post online is in a very public space. Your company may have rules about what you can and can’t say on social media. Or you might live in an at-will employment state like Georgia where your employer can fire you for any reason (or no reason at all) as long as it’s not illegal.
Social media policies and etiquette is just one of the many subjects we cover in our month-long Social Media Marketing Certificate. While the course focuses on social media mainly from a brand perspective, here’s a quick guide for employees to help you keep your job and avoid Internet infamy.
What not to do:
Make off-color jokes. Many of the worst cases of social media fails have been from users who dashed off a quick post thinking their few followers might find it funny. Experts aren’t immune from these kind of gaffes. In 2013, Justine Sacco, a public relations executive, who arguably should have known better, tweeted a racist joke about AIDS before boarding a flight to Cape Town. Soon #HasJustineLandedYet started trending as the online world waited for her to regain Internet access and find out what everyone else already knew: she was fired.
— news.com.au (@newscomauHQ) December 21, 2013
Complain about work. Under the National Labor Relations Act, talking about work conditions with colleagues is considered a “protected concerted activity” whether it happens online or in the break room. In theory, you should be able to gripe with coworkers on Snapchat about how lousy your job is — but you might not have that job anymore when you go in the next day.
That’s what happened to one veterinary hospital worker who vented on Facebook about her employer and was promptly given her notice. She appealed to the NLRB, but in the meantime, she had all the challenges of unplanned unemployment. The upshot? Think twice before complaining about work on social media, and if you choose to, realize there could be unintended consequences.
Think “private” means private. Sharing something with friends that would make your boss see red? Pause before pressing send. Nothing posted online is truly safe from public scrutiny. Consider the case of Samuel Crisp, the erstwhile Apple employee who made disparaging comments about the tech company. His Facebook posts were set to private, but that didn’t stop a friend (we’re using the Facebook term for a connection here) from forwarding it along to management. Management was not pleased. The result? Termination.
An employee’s guide to social media etiquette:
If you don’t want to accidentally become a cautionary Internet tale for the rest of us, there are a few simple steps you can take.
- Read your company’s social media guidelines. Many businesses have social media policies that clearly state what you can and can’t do on social media while you work there. Follow the rules, and you should be OK. If there’s no policy in place, it might be worth bringing up the idea to HR so you know where your employer stands on the subject.
- Never share sensitive company information. If you’re privy to trade secrets or you know the ending of a TV series you’re part of, don’t post it. Industries like finance, law and healthcare need to be particularly careful here. Facebook is not the place for privileged or client information.
- Think about what the boss would say. This final rule-of-thumb is a catch-all for social media posting. Would your employer think your latest social media update calls into question your professionalism and therefore damages your position in the company? Could you be responding — even respectfully — to comments that your boss would rather you leave alone? Think about the culture and climate where you work. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
In class, you’ll learn not only how to manage social media accounts — whether for a company or your own personal brand — but also how to leverage these platforms to drive awareness, sales and growth. Tyra covers it all: from content creation and curation to advertising and analytics. She’ll even share tips on how you can set up guidelines for your business so you don’t encounter some of the social faux pas listed above.
So what do you think? Should your employer care what you post on social media? Tell us on Facebook … just be careful what you say.