Change is constant, especially online. Five years ago, few people were familiar with LinkedIn or Facebook. Three years ago, the same could be said of Twitter. Now, these and other social networking sites have become part of the daily lives of millions of people, even while they are at work.
These Web sites provide the opportunity to connect and share information with friends, family and business contacts. But they don’t provide an instruction manual for using social media appropriately in the office. Is it OK to tweet while at work? Should you post a comment about your boss to your Facebook page? Should you accept a co-worker’s friend request?
Needless to say, there are many gray areas, and some rules of conduct are still in flux. But the following suggestions can help ensure your social networking activities remain suitable for the workplace.
Know the guidelines. According to a recent Robert Half Technology survey, 54 percent of CIOs polled said their firms don’t allow employees to visit any social networking sites while at work. And for those that do permit employee access, the type of access varies, be it solely for business purposes or various degrees of personal use.
Before logging on to Facebook or Twitter, you need to know what your company’s social media policy is. If you’re unfamiliar with it — or are unsure if your firm even has one — ask your manager or a human resources representative for clarification. There can be serious consequences for not adhering to these rules, and claiming to be unaware of them is rarely an acceptable excuse. If your firm doesn’t have an official policy in place, take cues from your manager and co-workers as to what’s appropriate.
Activate your privacy settings. Chances are you don’t want your boss or co-workers to know how much fun you had at happy hour last night or to see pictures from the event. Social networking Web sites allow users to control privacy settings, so become familiar with them and restrict access to your profile.
Remain professional. Due to the casual nature of social networking, it can be tempting to write about almost anything, including a complaint you have about your boss, co-workers or company. Don’t succumb to that temptation. Any information you post to a social networking profile has the potential to be seen by others and, perhaps most important, live on well into the future. Keep all of your posts professional — even those on sites you use exclusively for your personal life — or you may see your reputation and long-term career prospects suffer.
Be careful who you friend. The line between personal and professional is more blurred today than ever before. As a result, it may seem like a natural extension of your office relationships to ask your manager or co-workers to join your Facebook network. But think twice before extending an invitation. Nearly half of executives surveyed by Robert Half Technology said they are uncomfortable being friended by the employees they manage.
If you receive a friend request from a co-worker that you’d rather not let into your network, politely decline and explain that you prefer to keep your personal and professional lives separate. If, however, you feel it is better to accept such requests to avoid slighting those you work with, consider adding your colleagues to a “work” list and adjusting your privacy settings accordingly.
Keep it work-related. If you log on to social networking sites at the office, focus on activities that are business-related — not sharing links to humorous videos, sending updates about your family or posting travel photos. For example, you may tweet links to articles on developments in IT, write a blog post about a new application you have been testing at work or use Facebook to connect with a contact who will attend the same conference as you. These activities can help you develop a reputation as an expert in your field, expand your network and even advance in your career.
Don’t overdo it. Even if your company allows you full access to social media, that doesn’t mean you should spend an inordinate amount of time on these sites. It’s important to remember that you’re still at work. Limit the time you spend connecting with others online so your productivity remains high and deadlines do not begin to slip.
Social networking will continue to expand, and the etiquette surrounding its use will no doubt further evolve. But one rule is likely to remain constant: Use common sense. Be smart when you access Facebook and similar sites, even outside of business hours. A single regrettable post can be a career liability.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.