Social media – a potential mine field. Employer proof it!

Social media – a potential mine field. Employer proof it!

I lose count of the number of MPs who have stood down because of a comment made on social media in the past – sometimes the distant past and sometimes before they even were a MP. Francesca O’Brien, a candidate in west Wales, posted on Facebook in 2014 that “these people need putting down”, commenting on participants in the TV show Benefits Street. She has apologised and as far as I know has not actually stood down. That said, if elected, that comment will haunt her for the rest of her parliamentary career.

The problem is that many people are prolific on social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and, younger generations, TikTok, to name but a few! – and it is so easy to lose track of what you posted, was it a joke, was it meant, was this on a private account, was it public, did other people comment and did the conversation go viral?

It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. After a particularly eventful night out with your friends, where your behaviour was less than ideal, a photo emerges on Monday morning on social media that you’d never hope to see there (and might not even remember). Social media damage control is in order.

Employers can, and often will, scour social media pages of prospective employees to find out a bit more about the person they may want to hire. Similarly, employers will keep tabs on their employees through social media – because they can. And unfortunately, social media tells a story about you that will either impress or dismay future and current employers.

So here are some suggestions how to ensure that your social media profile portrays yourself exactly as you would like your employer to see it.

First of all, keep personal and professional very, very separate. Obvious I know, so why do so many people fall at that first hurdle?

Ensure that you operate your personal profiles and professional profiles separately, and that never the two shall meet. Consider making your private accounts just that, private – so that they’re not publicly accessible.

  • That said, when your boss requests to follow you, it may be rude not to accept. So, it’s key to ensure that both your professional and personal pages portray you in a positive light. A profile photo of you with your puppy or doing something wholesome in the great outdoors? Perfect. Does it show an old photo straight from first year at university? Time to update it, fast.
  • When posting, adopt a personal filter to anything which is based on, “would my mum be embarrassed by this”? If she would, then don’t go there.
  • Revisit your privacy settings to ensure unwanted information is locked way, way out of sight or deleted completely. Adjust if needed, and then do a “view only” or similar check of your page. Still unsure? Just ask someone who is not friends with you on that page to check what they can see.
  • Monitor all your social media pages regularly. If a friend tags you in a well-meaning but mildly offensive meme on a professional page that could make an employer think twice about you, then you need to know it’s there and remove it ASAP.

Clean up your history

Even once you have established a professional online presence, don’t lose sight of the past. Every photo or comment you’ve posted on social media is still hiding somewhere, and could be found by a current or prospective employer with a simple Google search. So how do you find those unwanted images and comments from the past and get rid of them?

  • There are programmes available to run an online scan to identify potentially problematic photos of you. Or at the very least simply type in your name and see what appears.
  • Take time to scroll through your pages and hide or preferably delete any photos and comments you don’t want seen, and sift through your updates and statuses to remove the ones that said things like “threw a sickie today”.

So what should I post?

Having safely locked your personal online profiles away so you and your friends can continue to share memes and photos from fun nights out, it’s time to consider what you CAN post on your professional pages.

  • Anything work-related that reflects your motivation, willingness to work or professional development, such as attending events or courses is great.
  • Share an interesting discussion, news or development in your industry and respond to comments on this.
  • Consider material that will show a bit of your personality, in a positive way. Are you volunteering somewhere on your days off? Share a photo. Did you just walk up a significant mountain, win a race, become a parent? Post a snapshot or two of that.
  • Comment on others in your industry by posting a message of congratulations on a promotion, award or otherwise.
  • Humble posts of you winning an award are good too. Make sure to thank your team or those giving the award…

And please, never ever post anywhere about something fun you’re doing on a ‘sick’ day – career suicide!

Treat your social media as your CV

Follow the same rules as when writing your CV. What does that mean?

  • Check spelling and grammar. A long, rambling post without commas or other punctuation won’t impress anyone, let alone your boss.
  • Filter your material. Are you posting a lot about contentious issues, such as politics that could adversely reflect on you in the workplace? By all means have an opinion, but keep it to your personal pages.
  • Just like a CV, lying never pays. When listing your employment history on LinkedIn, stick to the truth, and if the list is long, stick to what is relevant.

If in doubt of how to delete or hide anything negative, then it may well be worth seeking some advice and help from an IT expert. In some cases, money well spent! I’m sure Francesca O’Brien agrees….