The Pitfalls of Social Media and the Workplace

Social media is now a part of everyday life for many people in the UK. Most of us now use some kind of social networking site. However, mixing social media and the workplace can be risky at all levels, if not managed carefully. The Financial Times recently published an article noting high-profile examples of CEOs of some of the world’s most well-known companies getting into hot water for things they have posted on their social media pages. This includes publishing confidential commercial data and expressing divisive or ill-advised political comments.

This is a timely reminder for all of us that social media is a public space and that we need to think twice before we post online. Irrespective of the privacy settings you have in place, always remember that anything posted online has the potential to resurface. Ill-judged posts made in haste many years ago could come back to haunt you. It is important to consider this whether you are a long-serving CEO or an inexperienced intern.

There are many pitfalls associated with social media and the workplace. We all need to be careful about what we post or share on social media, whether we are posting on behalf of the company on an official social media page or using our own personal accounts.

If you are posting on behalf of the company, you are representing the organisation’s brand and must therefore use good judgement regarding the content and messages that are posted online. You should always be truthful, do not make promises you cannot deliver on, never disparage your competitors, and avoid getting into arguments.

Even if you aren’t representing your company on social media, you can still land yourself, or your firm, in trouble if you make reckless or inappropriate posts on your personal accounts.

Unless you have your employer’s permission, you should not claim to speak on behalf of your organisation. It is best to avoid putting work-related information online, even if you have the best of intentions. Sometimes, wittingly or unwittingly, people may post privileged, sensitive or confidential information online. For example, this could include details about a project that a company is working on that should not be seen by competitors. Employees should also be mindful not to breach the company’s intellectual property e.g. trademarks, logos or copyright.

Social media can also expose negative or embarrassing features of an organisation’s culture, including immaturity or a lack of judgement or professionalism. For example, posts sharing ‘funny’ inside jokes, office pranks or workplace indiscretions may not be as amusing when an employer sees it. Posts can go ‘viral’ and ‘spread like wildfire’ online and may risk damaging the public image of the company.

Work can be frustrating sometimes but making negative comments about your employer, colleagues, clients or customers could damage your personal reputation and that of the firm. You may have had a bad day in work and want to share it with someone, but remember, talking to your hundreds of online friends about your workplace problems isn’t the same as having a private conversation with someone offline. You may be just venting your frustrations but if you put it in writing there can be serious repercussions. There can be a risk of reputational damage, defamation claims, or cyberbullying and harassment allegations.

Even if you update your social media pages outside of work time and your posts do not even relate to work, the content you post can potentially have an impact on your career and your employer. If you post inappropriate material, for instance, this can reflect badly on your character and may be perceived as bringing your profession or employer into disrepute. This is a particular risk if you are a senior or well-known figure associated with the company. Examples could include being featured in images which show inappropriate behaviour e.g. immaturity, intoxication, petty criminality or lewdness.

It is also wise to take a cautious approach when making political posts. Different organisations will have different policies on this, so it is important to know what your employer expects of you.

Your online presence is a reflection of you and can also reflect on your firm. People, including current and prospective employers, can and will make judgements of you by what they see on your social media pages. Fundamentally, this is just common sense. Remember, do not share anything online that you would not share offline.

About the author

Nathan joined RWA in 2016 on successfully completing his PhD. He previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors. Nathan leads the content and professional standards team at RWA and is responsible for managing and curating technical content on the Aviva Development Zone and the award-winning My Development Zone e-learning platforms.

Since joining RWA, Nathan has written hundreds of business skills e-learning modules and assessments on a variety of subjects, including leadership and management, communication skills, human resources, employability, regeneration, citizenship and equalities.

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