Social networks: Drawing the line between professional and personal

By Matt Cornock

You might think I have something against Facebook and the like with this second post on the topic, however this post takes a slightly different slant looking at the way Facebook and other social networking sites are becoming more important to employers. So this post is focused on the users rather than the service itself.

Though prejudicing an job applicant for a post through what they have on their Facebook, MySpace or Twitter profiles certainly is up to the ethical conscious of employers, there have been reports of it happening. Do a quick web search and you’ll see what I mean. One article makes the very valid point that if there were two applicants applied for a job, one had a Facebook profile with a selection of embarrassing photos, and the other had a LinkedIn profile without any photos, it would be the applicant without the photos that would be more appealing to the employer. As I said, the ethics of actually looking at someone’s profile before making a decision to employ them is up for debate.

Similarly, employees who make any remark about their employer on Facebook or Twitter better be warned. The boundaries between professionalism and personal life become so blurred when using these sites that they’re indistinguishable in the eyes of employers. The most recent published example here on the BBC and a more wider picture through Google, shows how simply saying you are bored will cause more than tension in the workplace. The BBC article draws upon a quote from the TUC general secretary who says “Most employers wouldn’t dream of following their staff down the pub to see if they were sounding off about work to their friends.” However, social networking sites aren’t like a pub conversation, they’re like megaphones to the world.

Part of the problem lies with the semi-anonymous nature of the web. Although you may be posting to your profile (or your friends may be tagging you in embarrasing photos), because you are not face-to-face with the reader, the distance makes it easier to express how you really feel. This is evident with flaming. Flaming is an instant, firey response to electronic communication. This is most often seen in forums or as abrupt, instant, unconstructive responses to emails. For any seasoned flamers, take this advice:

  1. Have you paused for five minutes?
  2. Is what you want to say the same as what you would say directly face-to-face?
  3. Will your reply make a difference?

If you answer ‘Yes’ to all three then you should be ok.

Translating this onto Facebook statuses and Twitter posts, likewise you need to consider whether your micro-quote (personally attributable to you) will leave you up a particular creek without a paddle. Though these sites are often labelled ‘social’ networking, that does not mean they are exclusive to the non-work social environment. These are world-wide, publically accessible sites and will always have the potential to be accessed by anyone (regardless of whatever privacy settings you use). Whilst an off-hand remark or compromising photo might be suited to sharing in a private party, social networking sites are completely public.


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