Very little has been left untouched by the social media explosion of the last decade. Its ubiquitous presence has infiltrated all aspects of life. The world of work has been particularly transformed as 81% of SMBs now use social media and 94% of those are doing so for marketing purposes.
As social media continues to evolve with technology, professionals cannot ignore the benefits of using social platforms in leveraging their careers. But for all of its positives, social media can also present a professional minefield.
Many people use it to engage with family and friends, sharing personal information as they do so. In an era in which workers are connected with an average of 16 colleagues online and where 60% of hiring managers use social media to screen potential hires, sharing too much information can be potentially career-threatening.
Personal and professional lives have become intrinsically linked on social media. Even out of office hours, you are still a representative of the company and any unprofessional behaviour can reflect negatively on the business. As social media continues to evolve, you must consider the image you want to present professionally and personally.
Use personality to build your brand on social media
By developing a strong personal brand, you can establish yourself as an expert in a particular field, or demonstrate digitally fluency – a must-have in a technology driven world. Cultivating personal brand is achieved by allowing your personality to shine through while maintaining a distinct degree of professionalism.
Your social media persona is an extension of who you are and should reflect this. Most platforms don’t require credentials to prove credibility, though being able to list where you work or your experience can help you to attract industry attention. If you are passionate about a particular subject and engage with the topic in a compelling manner, you can begin to generate a following. Showing personality through your social imprint, such as by embracing a sense of humour and incorporating your interests from outside of work, can help you to seem more authentic and personable while you deliver useful opinions or content.
As you begin to increase your social media presence and a substantial network, opportunities will start finding you. Once users recognise your knowledge in a particular subject, they will start turning to you for information or a professional opinion.
Be wary of voicing personal opinions on social media
It is important to recognise that with every tweet we send and every Facebook status update we post, we are representing both ourselves and, by extension, our employers. Some users make clear statements in their bios, such as ‘all opinions my own’, to help distance themselves. However, if you are using social media as a professional or work tool, focus must be placed on consciously marketing ourselves in the most positive way.
Further education recruitment experts AoC Jobs have pointed out, on their FE teaching checklist, that lewd or offensive content is likely to damage your professional image and harm your chances of securing future work. Even with a personal account, consider how it could reflect on you personally, were it made public. For instance, you may have a strong opinion on a particularly controversial taboo topic, but broadcasting this opinion risks alienating or aggravating someone within your professional circle.
In 2013, Justine Sacco, PR executive at New York-based internet empire InterActive Corp, lost her job after becoming embroiled in a social media storm. Sacco made a puerile tweet before a flight to South Africa that suggested the Aids virus was linked to race. Whilst in transit, her remark was retweeted over 2,000 times and went viral on both Twitter and Buzzfeed with the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet.
After disembarking her flight and becoming aware of the uproar, Sacco deleted the tweet and her entire Twitter account. However, her employers had already been made aware of the tweet and subsequently fired her with immediate effect. You certainly have the right to share your opinions on social media, but the example of Sacco demonstrates why you should do so with awareness of the potential consequences.
Balancing professionalism to avoid consequences
To balance your social media persona, its important to maintain professionalism when making highly personal comments. While we often want to be the star of our own narrative, remember that the way you present yourself on social media should help you achieve specific goals. Professionally, your goal in any social media communication should be to craft a message that furthers intelligent discussion or elevates the conversation while being conscious of the different ways the message could be perceived.
Social media tools can be valuable resources not only communicating with people you already know, but also with expanding your professional network. The old adage about it’s not what you know, but who you know, is still alive in the world of work, so being aware of how your social media may impact you professionally will lead you towards continued career success.