If you’ve looked for a new job in the past few years, you’ve likely gotten advice about managing your social media profile during your search. But how you manage your online persona after you land that job can be just as important, and experts say new hires can make the mistake of forgetting what they’ve learned about social media and its impact on their careers.
“Many job seekers go into lockdown mode, especially on Facebook, once they enter the job market,” says David Boykin, a human resources specialist in Augusta, Georgia. “Once they secure a job, many make the mistake of reverting to a free-for-all approach on social media.”
Unfortunately, that free-for-all approach can actually have wider implications for an employee than a job seeker, says Boykin. A job seeker’s social media faux pas may cost him or her an interview opportunity, but a similar mistake by an employee can cost the person a job. Thankfully, there’s a lot of overlap between how job seekers and employees should conduct themselves on social media, so it shouldn’t be hard to maintain an online persona without endangering your job.
Experts advise against friending your boss on social media, especially at the beginning.
“Friending your boss usually just leads to trouble, and there isn’t much upside,” says Kandi Mensing, owner of Elite HR Team in Mascoutah, Illinois.
That’s certainly how Kenneth Havens sees it. He owns Freedom Online Japanese Market, an online retailer that sells specialty products from Japan. A few years back, one of his new employees friended him on Facebook. Things were fine at first, but then the work relationship began to sour, partly because of social media.
He started to see discrepancies between what she would tell him — that she’s too sick to come to work — and reality — she posted pictures of her at parties while on sick days, Havens says.
“When our professional relationship started going south, I started seeing posts about how cruel her boss was, not allowing her to take workdays off to rest up for a big trip,” Havens says.
Eventually, Havens says he had to fire her because her social media activity had made it clear that she had been lying to him.
“I’m sure that to this day she regrets friending me on Facebook,” he says.
While you may have moved on from your old job, it almost never makes sense to delete old colleagues, according to Matthew Jonas, president of TopFire Media, a Chicago-based digital marketing agency.
“Deleting old colleagues can be a sign that you are someone who is prone to burning professional bridges,” Jonas says. “Unless there is a legitimate reason, (like) if the colleague is especially hostile toward you or might somehow sabotage your career through a post, I’d strongly discourage new employees from deleting old colleagues.”
In fact, there’s actually a lot of upside to keeping those connections because social media can be such a strong networking tool.
“You never know which one of your former colleagues will become your newest team member down the road,” Jonas says.
It’s never been considered a good idea to talk with co-workers about your salary or bonus, but in social media it’s especially important to keep that kind of information private, Jonas says.
“Discussing compensation on a social media profile makes candidates appear petty and unprofessional, especially when (they’ve just been) hired,” says Jonas. “Why boast about your raise? How does it benefit you? It doesn’t. In fact, it might be a serious red flag, if your new employer reads a post in which you’re bragging about your new salary or bonus. Employers want to be thought of as more than a paycheck.”
The same goes for the interview. It might be tempting for new hires to brag about how well the interview went, but doing so doesn’t help them.
“An interview is a fairly confidential situation,” Jonas says. “If you really want to tell someone how well it went, pick up the phone or send an email to a close friend and tell him or her about the great experience.”
It should go without saying that it’s not a good idea for a new employee to take to social media to bash a former employer.
“This should be on the permanent ‘don’t’ list,” Jonas says. “If you’re bashing an old job on social media, a new employer may have reservations about what you will say about the company while you are employed or after you leave. New employees should never make any comparisons, good or bad, to their new work environment versus their old one.”
While employees aren’t expected to always have positive feelings about current or former employers, there is an expectation these days that you are an ambassador of your company, Jonas says. So if you don’t have anything good to say about a past employer, it’s always best to say nothing at all on social media.
Whether or not employees are allowed to check their social media while on the job varies by company and industry, says Hank Boyer, president and CEO of Boyer Management Group, a consultancy in Holland, Pennsylvania. At some companies, social media can be an integral part of the job description, while at others its use is forbidden, or at least frowned upon.
That’s why it’s critical for new hires to understand the company rules and culture when it comes to social media, Boyer says. But even when the company is relatively permissible, it’s still not a good idea to constantly be checking your social media account.
“Just logging in and checking who’s tweeted what may take seconds; it takes you away mentally for minutes at a time, especially if you attempt to text, tweet and work at the same time,” Boyer says. “It may not be against policy, but there comes a point where constantly checking your social media at work just looks bad to co-workers and your boss.”
Chances are your company already has a policy about using social media at work and checking social media sites on work-issued computers and phones. Often, the information-technology department will discourage certain social media activities on work devices because of security threats. But even if the company policy allows employees to check social media, employees should understand that doing so undermines their privacy, Boyer says.
“Where you go and what you view is visible to your employer because the network belongs to your employer,” Boyer says. “To be safe, don’t use your employer-supplied equipment to check your social media sites, even if you’re doing so during your off hours.”
These days, when we meet someone new it’s common for us to connect on social media. But in the context of the workplace, it’s a good idea to proceed with caution before friending your colleagues, says Chaz Pitts-Kyser, a speaker and writer on career issues.
“One should never get too close too soon with colleagues without feeling them out first. And you need to remember that your social media profile may put more of your personal life out there than you want co-workers to know,” says Pitts-Kyser.
Instead, Pitts-Kyser advises workers to use caution and connect only with colleagues they consider friends, especially on Facebook and Twitter, where the function is usually more social than professional. On sites like LinkedIn, you can connect with co-workers, but only after you’ve gotten to know them in a professional capacity.
Once you land a new job, it’s important to go back to LinkedIn and update your profile, says Colette Sexton, a communications manager with SkillPages, a search engine for finding people with different skill sets.
“You should update all of your online profiles as soon as possible after starting a new job,” Sexton says. “A potential client could be using (social media) to look for someone in your role at your company, but if your profile still lists your old role, they won’t find you and you could miss out.”
But while it’s important to update, you don’t want to change your online persona, says Sofie Sandell, a London-based social media author and trainer.
“Your handle is a big part of your personal brand and online identity,” Sandell says. “If you suddenly change and someone wants to connect or include you in a social media post, it might confuse them if you’ve changed handles. Instead, you should change the description in your profile and you should always have an up-to-date photo of yourself online.”
It’s also a good idea to make it clear in your description that your social media posts aren’t made in a work capacity.
People should understand that whatever they post on social media could end up being seen by anyone. So it’s a good idea to refrain from posting anything you wouldn’t want the world to know, says Sexton.
But you should still take precautions. In addition to being vigilant and discreet about what you choose to share, Sexton says it’s important for people to understand how their privacy settings work.
“It’s very likely that your new colleagues might try to find you on Facebook to learn a little about you,” Sexton says. “Millions of people think that their Facebook pages are completely private, but unfortunately, Facebook changes its privacy settings a lot, so you need to pay attention to those privacy notifications.”