Social media and the workplace – Online may be more online than you think.

There is a very simple question behind this article – do you know who can see your social media interactions?

You have probably all seen the dramatic headlines about people losing jobs because of something they posted online, and hopefully you are not silly enough to do the same. It will almost certainly say in any contract of employment that you must not do or say anything defamatory about the company you work for and that you will not damage its reputation. We will come back to this later but before we do it is probably worth taking a look at how your social media presence can affect your work life.

Firstly it can affect your chances of getting the job in the first place. According to ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) roughly 27% of employers will consider the social media profiles of candidates on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Now for the most part this very likely does little more than confirm the opinion the potential employer already has of a candidate and it is unlikely that it will be a deciding factor, but even so you need to be aware of this. For example, your potential employer probably does not need to see what you were up to on Saturday night if it was less than flattering.

In actual fact, the practice of screening through social media has some rather grey areas. While it does provide an up to date snapshot of the person being screened the content you see on most people’s feed is personal. Ethically it is all a bit difficult and, again according to ACAS, 30% of people would consider taking action if they were refused a job based on social media screening. Employers and recruiters beware then because, while social media screening may be a good tool in the recruitment process, misuse could land you in hot water. A further thought on this is that social media often contains sensitive information when it comes to potential for discrimination. Age, sexuality, gender and ethnicity are often readily available on someone’s Facebook account and the potential employer would, in some circumstances, not otherwise see these.

Social media is a very useful tool but it is also clearly a minefield. The best course for recruiters and employers is probably to consult their Human Resources departments or an advisory body on where they stand regarding the practice of social media profiling.

For the employee or potential employee here are some tips. Remember that clause about disrepute we discussed at the beginning of the article? Well, take a few minutes to apply it to your social media feeds. Now while you are there ask yourself, “How do I look to an outsider reading my profile”? If you find it’s not that flattering then you need to decide if you are happy with that or not.

Here are a few simple tips

  • Keep your public and your private face separate
  • Use your privacy settings, explore the levels they offer and set them accordingly
  • Never post anything offensive or potentially offensive about an employer or potential employer
  • Perhaps set specific roles for your social media interaction. For example
    • Linkedin is my professional face
    • Twitter is my public face
    • Facebook is my friends and family face.
    • Remember the other platforms as well. Pinterest for example can say a lot about you in terms of creativity and hobbies.

This may be a difficult area but it is here to stay and, employers, candidates, employees and just about everyone needs to decide how they will approach it.

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18Oct2013