10 Ways to Stay Professional on Social Media

By on August 9, 2014
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By Kayla Matthews –

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of tweets and Facebook posts that flaunt a skimpy two-piece bathing suit on a Costa Rica vacation and a tray full of Mai Tais, or convey strong reactions to the immigration controversy, or not-so-subtle-criticisms about a new supervisor in a retail job.

However, in order to be perceived professionally on social media, these topics and subject matters should be completely avoided.

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While social media was originally intended for socializing, it has become a free-for-all open forum where employers, hiring managers, co-workers, insurance companies and pretty much anyone can look you up and form a well-fueled judgment.

In order to prevent being judged as unprofessional or distasteful, remember these social media content principles.

1. If You Wouldn’t Say It in Person, Don’t Say It on Social Media

Anything you say on social media should be thought of as no less than part of an actual face-to-face conversation with whomever you are communicating. This concerns everything from light gossip to personal opinions on what your friend’s daughter was wearing last night.

Many people rant and rave on social media because of the seeming anonymity or simply the disconnect that occurs with online communication. But words are still words, whether written or spoken.

Once you’ve posted and those words have been read, you can’t take them back, even if you delete it the tweet or the post. In other words, be polite and cordial at all times.

2. Keep Your Language Clean and Your Grammar Impeccable

Profanity and cursing will most certainly be viewed as unprofessional by employers and recruiters who may be screening your social media accounts. Unless it is a closed conversation, one that can only be seen by you and one or two other trusted people, it’s best to never let the “S” word make an appearance in your social media content.

Grammar and sentence structure are also important. Review and edit your comments and tweets before posting to prevent typos. Typos can sometimes cause misunderstandings.

3. Be Discretionary About Those Included in Your Social Media Network – Especially Those Under 30

Because everyone in your network can see comments made on your page, or photos that you are tagged in, it is wise to use a little bit of precaution when inviting friends, accepting a friend request, or following Twitter users.

Those under 30 especially tend to have fewer filters about what they post and tweet. If you have unscrupulous people in your network, they could easily deter an employer considering you for a job. The content that your network surrounds you with will certainly color the kind of impression you make on social media.

4. Do Not Post Questionable Photos

This one should be common sense, but I’m saying it anyway, because there may be some examples that you would consider harmless, but that could be seen as unprofessional, such as a photo of you in a modest swimsuit. Would you include a swimsuit photo in a portfolio you submit to an employer? Of course not. This also applies to any photo that may show you with a beer or a cigarette. Family photos, activity photos, sightseeing — these things are all fine.

5. Be Vigilant About What Others Post and Tag You In

You can’t control what your family and friends may post. I have certainly experienced getting an unwanted tag in a photo. But you can un-tag yourself or delete it from your Facebook’s Timeline.

If it is something particularly mortifying, don’t hesitate to ask the friend or family member to remove the photo. Most people have no ill intent and will understand if you explain why you want it removed.

6. Link to Helpful, Informative and Neutral Content and Resources

By linking to related professional sites, articles, blogs and other content, you are further establishing yourself as a professional within that specific field.

For example, if you are seeking a nursing job, linking to health and nutrition sites, wellness articles, fitness advice, etc., are all great things to support your professional image. Informative and helpful links and resources promote a healthy social profile. Neutral links that are of use to many people, such as career resources for older professionals or tips for women who want to work from home, encourage the perception that the individual is community-focused.

7. Don’t Talk About Work in Social Media

The few exceptions to this rule may be to congratulate a co-worker who receives a promotion, without mentioning specifics, or to say something positive and very general about work.

Never complain or criticize your co-workers, your superiors, or your company. Even if you plan on quitting soon, this can seriously discourage any future employers from hiring you.

Depending upon what is said and the business of employment, it can even be considered illegal to disclose certain information, not to mention it is highly unprofessional.

8. Use Discretion If and When You “Check In” at a Given Location

The location tool can be fun, and many people use it. But you don’t want a hiring manager or your current boss to know you’ve just “checked in” at ladies night in a local pub and grill or even happy hour at a local restaurant. If you want to check in at certain social places, create an exclusive social circle for those posts.

9. Just Say “No”

You are never required to “friend” or follow any potential or current employer. If you feel at all insecure or apprehensive about doing so, simply refer them to another social media profile geared specifically toward professionals, such as LinkedIn.

Certain states and companies have made it illegal or against policy to use social media profiling as part of the hiring process, so don’t ever feel pressured into surrendering your Facebook password to a hiring manager (or anyone else for that reason).

10. Create Separate Professional and Personal Social Media Accounts

This is another option that can prevent an oversight on your personal social media account from causing an unprofessional image. A separate professional social media account can be very convenient if you are job seeking or being socially profiled for professional reasons.

As long as you use the same behavior on social media that you would use in the office, and run everything you post under the “would I care if my boss or colleagues saw this” filter, maintaining a professional social profile is completely manageable.

Kayla Matthews is a business blogger with a passion for social media, human relations and managing the work-life balance. You can read more of her latest posts by following her on Google+ and Twitter.


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10 Ways to Stay Professional on Social Media