5 Questions to Ask Before Posting on Social Media
Everybody would love the chance to have their moment of fame. How would you love to be the most talked about person in the world, even if it is only for a few minutes?
Sometimes, however, such fame might happen for the wrong reasons, unexpectedly turning your life upside down. This is exactly what happened to one Justine Sacco.
Justine Sacco, a former PR executive for IAC was going on a flight to South Africa to visit her family during the holidays in 2013.
Just before she boarded the flight from London to Cape Town, she sent out what she thought was a funny tweet. Below is the tweet she sent out:
At the time, Justine had just 170 followers on Twitter, and she didn’t expect her tweet to receive much engagement.
After boarding the plane, she switched off her phone and slept throughout the eleven hour journey.
By the time she landed and switched on her phone, she was the number one trend on Twitter across the whole world.
Her tweet, which was full of racial slurs, had sparked a lot of outrage all over the world, and twitter users were calling out her behavior by the thousands.
By the time she touched down in Cape Town, her employer, enraged by the negative publicity Justine was bringing to the company, had already fired her.
Yes, she lost her job because of a single tweet.
A similar thing happened to a lady by the name Naomi H. Naomi had just gotten accepted for an internship at NASA, and she did what many other people would do today – she rushed to share the great news with her social media followers.
However, the kind of language she chose to use when sharing the news was quite explicit.
Concerned about the language Naomi had used to share her good news, one user commented on her Tweet asking her to mind her language. Rather than heeding the advice, she responded with even more explicit language.
What she didn’t know that the Twitter user who had asked her to mind her language was Homer Hickam, a member of the National Space Council, which oversees NASA.
And because of her tweets, Naomi ended up losing her internship even before she had started.
While Homer Hickam was not involved in rescinding the internship, the news of the Twitter interaction had reached Twitter, leading to the cancellation of the internship.
Justine Sacco and Naomi are not the only people who have lost their jobs or found themselves in precarious situations because of something they posted on social media.
This is something that happens regularly.
Just google the phrase “fired over a tweet” and you will get close to 90 million results.
In the past, it was possible for someone to keep their social and professional lives separate.
Following the rise of social media, however, this is becoming increasingly difficult.
Today, people are looking at everything you post online.
These include people such as your colleagues, your bosses, recruiters, hiring managers, friends, potential romantic partners, and so on, and therefore, whatever you post online could come back to haunt you.
Today, it has become commonplace for employers to review a candidate’s social media presence before hiring them.
According to training.com.au, over 90% of hiring managers screen a candidate’s social media presence before making the hiring decision, and 55% of them have reconsidered hiring a candidate because of something they found on the candidate’s social profiles.
Some of the reasons that have led to candidates not being hired because of their social media posts include:
- Inappropriate posts, comments and photos
- Content about the use of alcohol and drugs
- Comments that tarnish the reputation of a previous employer or previous colleagues
- Poor communication skills
- Discriminatory posts and comments
If you want to not only protect your current job, but also increase the chances of landing a new job if you are job hunting, you need to watch what you post on social media.
The thing with social media is that it does not have any guidelines or boundaries.
You can post just about anything.
However, the problem with that is that it provides breeding ground for chaos, and as we have already seen, this can turn out to be problematic.
To avoid making posts that might come back to haunt you later, you should ask yourself the following five questions before posting anything on social media.
WOULD I BE COMFORTABLE IF THIS POST WAS ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES?
When social media first emerged, it was designed as a platform for people to connect with their friends and family.
The first people you added on Facebook or followed on Twitter and Instagram are probably people you are already close to.
Today, however, social media has become more than a platform for connecting with people close to you. It has turned into a platform for getting out information to the masses. Today, most people are “friends” with people they have never met in real life, and are following people from different corners of the world.
What this means is that, whenever you share something on social media, you are not just sharing with your close friends.
You are potentially sharing your post with the entire world. For instance, when Justine Sacco sent out the tweet that led to worldwide outrage and the loss of her job, she had just 170 followers on Twitter.
To her, she was just sharing some dark humor with her close friends. She didn’t expect the tweet to be seen by hundreds of thousands of Twitter users across the globe.
The same thing that happened to Justine Sacco could happen to you.
Even if all your friends and followers and friends on social media are people close to you, people you know in real life, one of them might share or retweet your post, giving it a wider reach than you intended.
Therefore, before sending out a Facebook post, tweet, or Instagram post, assume that what you are sending out could potentially be seen by the whole world.
Ask yourself if you would comfortable if this post was on the front page of the New York Times, with your name next to it. If your answer to this question is negative, don’t send out that post.
WHAT IS MY COMPANY’S SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY?
As an employee, you are a representative of your company at all times, even when you are not working, and therefore, it is a good idea to always present yourself professionally.
The same applies to social media.
A lot of employees have their employers listed on their social media profiles, which means that everything you post on your socials could be associated with your employer.
Therefore, it is always good to make sure that you do not post anything that could be damaging or embarrassing to your employer.
To do this, you need to be aware of your company’s social media policy.
Today, most companies have social media policies that provide guidelines on employees can and cannot do on their social media profiles.
By 2016, over half of companies in a survey by Pew Research had policies on employees’ use of social media.
This is because a company could be held liable for defamatory, obscene, bullying, harassing, threatening, or other wholly inappropriate posts by their employee on social media.
In addition, companies develop social media policies to ensure that their employees do not share confidential information and trade secrets on social media. Most social media policies include clauses explaining what disciplinary action will be taken in case of violations to the guidelines within the policy.
Before you post anything on social media, think about your employer’s social media policy and consider whether whatever you want to post is in line with this policy.
For instance, according to Walmart’s social media policy, the retail giant does not allow employees to speak on behalf of the company or respond to customer inquiries or feedback using their personal social media accounts.
Similarly, Best Buy’s social policy prevents employees from speaking on behalf of the company, or sharing internal information about the company.
It also directs employees to act ethically on social media and to avoid posting anything that is discriminatory in any way.
So, does your employer’s social media policy condone whatever is contained in the post you want to send out? If it doesn’t, you are better off deleting the post.
If you are not sure about your company’s stance when it comes to social media, you should ask your manager or HR for clarification before you post something that could land you in trouble.
One more thing; whether your employer has mentioned it in the social media policy or not, or even if you are not employed or own your own business, avoid posting anything that could be seen as discriminatory in any way (including by sex, gender identity, age, skin color, ethnicity, race, nation of birth, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, citizenship, marital status, or disability).
This should be common sense. If Justine Sacco had adhered to this, she would still have her job at IAC.
Similarly, do not post anything that you would not want your employer to see.
Sure, you might have taken care to ensure that your boss or co-workers do not follow you on social media.
Still, they could stumble upon your post on someone else’s profile, and it is therefore best to avoid posting anything that you would not want your boss to see.
For instance, one 10th grade math teacher lost her job after she posted a series of revealing selfies on Twitter and alluding to being a marijuana user.
She also mentioned bringing marijuana to school and grading student papers while high.
A local news station carried her tweets and that was enough to get her fired.
Basically, if you wouldn’t want your employer to know about it, keep it off social media.
IS THIS A CONVERSATION I NEED TO BE HAVING ONLINE?
Social media provided people with a voice and platform to speak whatever is on their minds.
Feeling happy after getting a promotion? You can share it on social media.
Your boyfriend just proposed? You can share the news with the world. Want to make your opinion known about the government of the day?
You guessed it, just head over to social media.
While social media makes it possible for people to get themselves heard, it is good to note that not every conversation is worth having on social media.
Saying some things on social media means that they might get to people that you didn’t want these things to get to.
Sometimes, social media might not even be the best way to let out your feelings or share your opinion.
Several people have lost their jobs for posting on social media things that would have better been left online.
For instance, no one feels good working in a job they hate, but then, sometimes bills have to be paid, forcing one to put up with the job. In such instances, people let out the stress from work by complaining about their job to others.
However, social media is not the place to complain about your job.
You can complain about your job to your spouse or your close friends, but not to the entire world.
When you complain about your job on social media, this post could be seen by anyone, including your employer, and this could lead to trouble for you.
For instance, there is a case of a woman who had just been offered a job, but even before she started working, she went online to complain about her new job, but her new employer got wind of her post and fired her via a tweet, even before she had reported for work.
Similarly, another woman by the name Connor Riley had just been offered a job at Cisco.
Soon after, she rushed on Twitter and posted a joke about how she had a difficult choice to make between the fat paycheck at Cisco and having to make a long daily commute to a job she would hate.
While this might be something you would say to your close friends, the tweet got to Cisco and they were not amused. Soon after, the job offer was rescinded via a tweet.
Job related posts are not the only conversations you need to avoid having online.
How many times have you seen someone posting about their relationship problems online, even before having a conversation with their partner? In such circumstances, is it not better to have a face to face conversation with your partner to try and resolve the problem?
Having important conversations online also increases the chances of what you are saying being misconstrued.
Therefore, before posting anything online, take a minute to ask yourself whether you should be having this conversation online, and whether the conversation would have a greater impact when conducted offline.
If the conversation is not meant for everyone, or if you’d make a greater impact having the conversation offline, don’t post it on social media.
IS WHAT I AM ABOUT TO POST IN LINE WITH MY PERSONAL BRAND?
Whether you are a student, whether you are job hunting, or whether you are already employed, you need to have a personal brand.
Just like a commercial brand, you should be concerned about your professional reputation, not only in real life, but also on social media.
Remember, we already saw that potential employers will google your name to get a feel of who you are as a professional even before inviting you to a job interview.
If you are already working, your current employer is probably already watching how you conduct yourself online.
And whenever you interact with other people, they are continuously forming an image of who you are.
Therefore, it is very important to manage what people who are watching you on social media see. You need to be your own PR guru and ensure that the impression people are forming of you is how you want to be known.
The first thing you need to do is to decide what your personal brand is. How do you want to be known? What do you want to be known for? What values do you want people to associate with you? What perception do you want people to have once they view your social media presence?
Once you have decided what defines your personal brand, the next thing you need to do is to make sure everything you do on social media is in line with this brand.
Before posting anything on social media, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will this post enhance my personal brand?
- Will it move me closer to my personal brand goals?
- Is it in character with my brand?
If your post is inappropriate to your personal brand, or if it goes against or dilutes your personal brand, then you should probably not post it.
AM I SUPPOSED TO BE SHARING WHAT I’M ABOUT TO SHARE?
Today, we seem inclined to share almost everything on social media.
There are people whose entire lives are documented on social media.
Owing to the advertising power of social media, some companies even encourage their employees to share company news, events, and stories on their personal social media profiles as a form of employee advocacy.
In spite of this, it is good to note that not everything is supposed to be shared. Some information could be confidential or sensitive, in which case sharing such information on social media could land you in serious trouble.
For instance, if you were working on a top-secret project, under no circumstances should you share details about the project, whether on social media or offline.
Similarly, if you work for a company that handles customer data and information, you should not share such information.
Therefore, whenever you are crafting a social media post, before hitting send, take a minute to ask yourself whether you are actually supposed to be sharing this information.
Some of the kinds of information you are not supposed to share include:
- Financial or operational information: This includes information such as earnings, forecasts, strategies, information about new products, and so on. Basically, if this company information is not already out in the public domain, then you have no business sharing it with your followers.
- Personal information: You should not share any personal information about your customers or your colleagues.
- Confidential information: Any information that has been tagged as confidential or top secret should not be shared on social media.
- Internal company announcements: This refers to any company announcements that have only been made internally, such as information about company leadership, promotions, layoffs, or any other information that has not been made available to the public.
- Legal information: Any information pertaining to the company’s legal affairs should not be shared on social media.
Apart from these bits of information that apply to the corporate environment, you should also ask this question when sharing information that does not involve your employer.
For instance, if you attend a person’s event, such as a wedding, you are not supposed to share information about the event.
It is their story, and therefore it is up to them to share the information in the manner in which they want it to come out.
Similarly, if you have information about the death of someone, you should leave it to the family to share the news. It is not your place to make the announcement.
Social media is a great place to catch up with family, friends, and acquaintances, share your thoughts and opinions, follow interesting people, learn, and get entertained.
Social media does away with many social inhibitions and allows us to be whoever we want to be.
However, the level of freedom available on social media should not leave you disillusioned.
Just because you can post anything online does not mean you should do it.
Like we have seen from the various stories in this article, something you “innocently” share on social media can easily come back to haunt you.
To avoid finding yourself in such situations, you should exercise a lot of caution when sharing on social media.
Most importantly, before sharing any post, you should vet it by asking yourself the above five questions.
If whatever you want to share still seems shareworthy after passing it through these five questions, you can now go ahead and post it on your social profiles.
Also make sure to use hashtag generator tools to grow increase your post’s reach.
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