Sticky Social Media Situations

Social networking sites have many advantages, but easily maintaining distinct lines between your personal and professional life isn’t one of them. Something as simple as stating your political views on Facebook or twittering about how you’re overwhelmed at work can present some awkward moments if read by professional colleagues. Following are some sticky social media situations, along with tips on how to deal them:

You Wish You Weren’t Someone’s ‘Friend’
After Beth P., a producer working for a financial firm in the Bay Area, interviewed a candidate for a position in her group, she was invited by the individual to connect with her on Facebook. “I was new to Facebook and didn’t really think about the random, non-professional posts that folks make,” says Beth. “But I didn’t want this candidate to take my non-acceptance as rejection, so I accepted, figuring we’re all adults.”

Unfortunately, the person began to comment on almost every status update Beth posted, and was often the first to do so. “She even tried to ‘friend’ my boyfriend on Facebook and invited him to parties,” says Beth. 

 If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, you might consider adjusting your privacy settings to create a “work” list of contacts who wouldn’t be privy to more personal posts.  Another option is to direct professional acquaintances to LinkedIn for connecting.

You’re Tagged in a Not-So-Flattering Photograph
When you were in college 15 years ago, you probably never thought a photograph of yourself in a purple party dress guzzling margaritas with friends would come back to haunt you. But now an old college buddy has made it her personal hobby to tag you and others in a series of unflattering images on Facebook. Perhaps your friends think it’s cute to post such pictures, but when your contacts include professional colleagues, debaucherous images from the past lose some of their nostalgia.

If you find yourself the victim of unflattering photo tags, untag yourself and privately e-mail the person posting them to say you’d prefer not to be tagged in future photos. You also can adjust your privacy settings so photos are only viewable by your close friends.

A Colleague Stops Following You on twitter
You send a personal e-mail responding to a former coworker’s tweet only to find that he’s no longer a follower. While it may hurt your feelings, you shouldn’t automatically stop following him. (You’re not in high school, after all.) Instead, determine whether his tweets are useful to you; if they are, continue to follow him.

Keep in mind that while it’s generally courteous to follow someone if they’re following you, it’s also time-consuming to keep up with posts from hundreds of people. It’s possible this individual doesn’t want to sort through your 100 tweets per day on a subject he’s not interested in.

You Make a Rookie Mistake
Some of the more embarrassing social media moments happen when users don’t quite comprehend the “power” at their fingertips. Catherine D., a fine arts graduate student near Sacramento, CA, had an uncomfortable moment when a member of her cohort posted a complaint about one of their professors: “She didn’t realize I was friends on Facebook with this professor and that complaining about him on my wall meant that he would be able to see her comments.”

Catherine privately e-mailed the student and let her know, but the damage was done. Make sure you fully understand the parameters (and who is friends with whom) of whatever social media tool you’re using. And always be diplomatic because your comments could come back to haunt you.

It’s critical to keep your reputation foremost in mind when using social media. Remember that your posts can, in effect, serve as a sort of living history of your interests, knowledge and professionalism. If you wouldn’t want an employer to read it, don’t post, tweet or blog about it. You also can do more to effectively separate your work and personal life by adjusting your privacy settings when using popular applications.

And if you do have an awkward situation, take proactive steps to remedy it as quickly as possible.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative professionals, and HOW’s official career partner.