It’s Thursday, you’re beating the mid-afternoon slump with some Facebook time, and you see a new friend request—from your boss.
Unfortunately, though, declining connection invitations from your colleagues, clients, or boss isn’t really an option anymore. We’re all sophisticated enough social media users to know that if we check back on a page we sent a friend request to, and we’re still not able to fully stalk it—we’ve been rejected. Ignore your co-worker or boss’ request, and you can only hide until next Monday’s staff meeting before having to endure an awkward encounter.
But, including your officemates in your online world doesn’t mean you have to share every detail of your personal life with them. In fact, please don’t. Learn from these real-life social media horror stories—and keep them from happening to you.
1. Trash-Talking on Twitter
A friend of mine was flying on an airline that also happened to be one of her clients. Her flight was cancelled, leaving her stranded, so she took to Twitter to blast the company—that’s right, the same company that pays her—for its poor service. All I can say is, your mom was right about not biting the hand that feeds you. She got a pretty hard slap on the wrist, I hear.
On Twitter, you’ve got two options—make your tweets private or make them public. If you really, really feel the need to complain about work-related things on Twitter, keep your account private and make it a rule not to let anyone remotely connected to your job follow you. (But you should still be careful, as things on the internet have ways of slipping into public eye.)
A better option: Be public, then don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss, clients, or co-workers to hear.
2. Caught Red-Handed on Instagram
I once made the ridiculously foolish mistake of telling my co-workers I was running out for a quick bite for lunch before diving into a daunting project. Instead, I headed out with a friend for a quick boat ride on the lake. I was working remotely at the time, and thought no one would ever know.
Unfortunately, it was also a gorgeous day, and I just had to capture it with a hipster filter on Instagram. My boss “liked” my post—which in boss language meant she didn’t like my post one bit and wanted me to know (in case there was any uncertainty) that she knew I’d fibbed.
The same rules for Twitter apply to its counterpart Instagram. You can either have a full-on private account or a completely public one. So, again, be mindful of your audience and timeliness before posting. And be careful about sharing to other social networks through Instagram—even if that Instagram profile is private, if you share to your public Twitter account, it’s anyone’s game.
3. PG-13 on Pinterest
I once worked with a social media community manager who was explaining to her client how Pinterest worked when he asked her to pull her account up and show him. (It was a relatively new site at the time.) She was a bit hesitant to put her profile on the big screen for all to see—and, soon it became clear why. She had pinned memes galore littered with four letter words, some really controversial political statements, and a handful of risqué pictures of herself in artistic, retro pinup poses. I mean, all the client was really looking for was a few cute puppy boards. He broke the awkward silence by saying, “Now I know why Pinterest is so addictive,” followed by a wink. Gross.
Thankfully, the Pinterest gods have answered our prayers for private boards. So, from now on, any content with political, religious, or sexual references or preferences should be put there. And remember, you can’t change a current board to private—so move racy pins over to a newly-created private board, and then delete the public one.
4. Wandering Eyes on LinkedIn
As the most professional of social networks, there should be fewer faux pas that you have to deal with. But one thing to watch out for is getting caught job hunting—on the job.
My boss was once contacted by a hiring manager looking to talk to him as a reference for one of my peers who had applied for a new job. Not good—especially not the next day, when my colleague got a meeting request from our boss to “talk about your goals and your satisfaction with the company.” It was an awkward conversation to say the least, and could have easily been avoided with a stealthier job search.
Remember that when you’re prowling the site for HR managers, responding to posts on job openings, and joining job search groups, your activity is publically reported in your connections’ newsfeeds. While updating your resume, requesting recommendations, and joining industry groups aren’t bad activities, done in rapid succession they can raise some red flags. Be smart and focus your efforts on communication that is private and direct (through tools like InMail), not made public on the widely shared world of LinkedIn.
5. Friending Fail on Facebook
These days on Facebook, you can get pretty technical with privacy settings, creating tiers for friends that range from Fort-Knox-type protection to TMZ public access. Meaning, you can safely accept your boss’ friend request without her having to see your Halloween photos.
But here’s where this can work against you: If all your boss can see is your profile photos—and she can’t even write on your wall—you’ve made a worse move than ignoring her friend request in the first place. Trust me, it’s pretty uncomfortable when your boss sends you an email saying, “I tried to make it Facebook official but was blocked from your wall: Happy Birthday!” Yes, this happened to me.
Now, I have professional and semi-professional lists to categorize the people I work with. Since Facebook allows you to control privacy on a post-by-post basis, it’s easy to keep my professional list updated with things I want (standard status updates, article recommendations, groups I’m a part of) and prevent them from seeing the things I don’t want (like the video of me screaming profanity on a roller coaster ride that my friends so generously shared on my wall).
Becoming well-versed in your accounts’ privacy settings and updates can go a long way in preventing any embarrassing or potentially career-harming situations. Just always be sure to double-check your content and audience before you hit enter. And keep in mind, you really shouldn’t be posting anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother (or boss) to read anyway.