Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu perhaps learned his lesson when he plastered his shirtless photograph on a gay dating website in 2012, knocking him out of the race for Congress that year.
His is just an example of what bad social media posting can cause in the employment world. More and more people from Anthony Weiner to Paula Deen are learning that social media can destroy their careers. Experts in hiring and human resources are saying social media can be a good thing but can also follow you in your career and advise you be cautious.
Experts like MJ Jensen, chief idea officer at IdeaMagic, which consults on social media issues, believe employers look through prospective employees’ social media accounts to make sure their personality suits the company. Are they trustworthy? Are they outspoken?
“A video doesn’t lie, it really tells the truth. So you want to determine if that’s something you want to bring into your business,” Jensen said. “If a person is willing to put inappropriate content on a public forum, what will they do if I hired them into my company?”
Brandy Ferrer, president and founder of Pathfinder Strategies in Tucson, who has experience in employee screening, warns human resources departments that snoop through employees Facebook profiles can stir up backlash.
“HR has to be very careful because, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the organization to go through an employees Facebook profile,” Ferrer said. “You have to be careful because it could be tricky from a legal perspective.”
So what can you do to avoid ruining your reputation or losing your job, according to experts?
First, exercise your right to privacy.
Social media platforms have privacy settings that can either place your entire account on private or restrict people from viewing certain parts of your account. For example, your Facebook account can be set on public yet, your photo albums can be on private. This way you can post photos from your Friday night outings without the risk of getting in trouble with your boss.
“My advice to people is just to be careful and to use your privacy settings. Social media is fantastic but you have to pick and choose what you put out there,” Ferrer said.
Second, don’t post that!
The ease of posting a picture or status on social media platforms can leave some to get a little carried away. Not everything needs to be posted online, especially things that could potentially be taken the wrong way. Information posted online can be deleted but it never really goes away. A little discretion goes a long way.
“You don’t have to post everything. I’m shocked at how many people post when they’re out of town or their location,” Jensen said. “People forget that as good as social media has been for our world there are bad guys out there.”
Third, your friends are a reflection of who you are.
Employees who choose to look through your social media accounts could pay attention to your friends and their actions. Good or bad, it could have an affect on their perception of you.
“The other piece of it too is who you hang out with,” Jensen said. “If your friend is a total drunk and ranting then that ends up on your profile, that’s another area that needs to be consulted.”
Finally, keep your professional and personal life separate.
Most social media platforms allow users to create more than one profile under the same name. Create a different page for personal use, where you can post photographs and status updates for your friends and family to view only.
“I heard of this woman who had only 40 followers on Twitter but when she tweeted something inappropriate she still got in trouble. That’s why I have two accounts and my personal account is on private,” Ferrer said.
And experts also have advice for institutions: Address the problem.
If a company or institution receives negative comments on their social media account officials should simply address the negative comment rather than deleting it, according to Magan Alfred, associate director of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Marketing at the University of Arizona. It’s a chance for the company to interact with their consumers and show them that they care.
“Institutionally it’s helpful if we are seen as an institution that pays attention to the way we promote ourselves and how we tell our story in that space,” Alfred said. “If we are responsive to them, if we don’t shut down any negative commentary and encourage that kind of debate or interaction. I think that says a lot about the business.”
Noor Jarki is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.