In the Age of the Internet, it seems that just about everybody wants to do what the cool kids do, and let’s face it—most of the cool kids do Social Media. The most popular appear to be Facebook and Twitter, and the craze goes well beyond the adolescent segment of the population. Now their parents, and sometimes even their grandparents, are manning their computers or cell phones to communicate with, well, the world!
It’s great to be living in a modern age where you can just tap out a message and send it out for all your friends to see. But there is a price to pay professionally if you get reckless with your posts and your tweets. Communication via Social Media is very public, and if you work in a sensitive area such as education, law enforcement, or health care, there can be serious repercussions for communicating the wrong message to the wrong audience.
On the other hand, Social Media can actually benefit you professionally, when used correctly. Let’s look at some actual examples of proper and improper social media use in three professions where reputation is everything.
DO NOT: Post pictures of yourself on Facebook that imply that you are a sexy, drunken, party animal. If a parent should see such a picture, you’ll not only find yourself shame-Faced, you could be out of a job. Some teachers “Friend” students and former students on Facebook. Even though you like your students (most of them, anyway), it’s not a good idea to have available documentation of every exchange you make with students online. And for goodness’ sake, don’t use social media to gripe about students, co-workers, or administrators.
DO: Use the social media to discuss topical issues with other educators, share ideas and best practice methodology, provide support and outreach for others in the field, and even tweet links to resources and interesting stories. When you set up a Facebook or Twitter account, be sure to apply the privacy settings so that you will be relatively secure from the prying eyes of students and parents.
DO NOT: Use Social Media to advertise what is going on regarding cases, whether they are in progress or resolved. Also, avoid revealing names and addresses of anyone, whether it’s in your personal or professional life, and don’t publish photos of the layout of any police station, or your fellow officers. And it goes without saying that you should never post any information that could be painful for victims of crimes.
DO: Use Twitter to increase your visibility in your territory and stay connected with the citizens you serve. You can also use Facebook and YouTube to post photos and videos; for example, pictures of vandalism could lead to someone giving you a lead on a suspect. You can also post helpful advice on how people can go about avoiding dangerous situations and protect themselves from crime. Finally, you can offer links to websites where they can view images of crime suspects.
DO NOT: Post photos of yourself or any colleagues abusing medical facilities and equipment in an attempt at comedy. (Television executives are not looking for a new medical farce.) It is also recommended that you respectfully decline Friend requests from patients, and always refrain from mentioning patients, even if you don’t use their names. They will often recognize themselves, and there can be ethical and legal ramifications for breaching confidentiality.
DO: Use Social Media as a tool to connect and network with others in the profession. You can use Twitter to share news about advances in medicine, education, and links to articles that you find helpful and interesting. You can also start discussions about medical issues and current events.
Making the Most of Social Media, Professionally Speaking
Before you jump headfirst into posting and tweeting, there are a few things to consider:
- Check with supervisors to make sure you are not going against any company policies.
- Familiarize yourself with your organization’s (or your union’s) guidelines regarding social media.
- Publish a disclaimer stating that your views are yours personally, and should not be considered a reflection of your employer.
- Make sure that your username and your profile picture reflect your professionalism.
- Choose a privacy setting according to how you want to enable or prevent access to visitors/followers.
Finally, think about possible fallout from everything you’re thinking about publishing before you hit the button. Once it’s out there, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to get it back. You never want to embarrass yourself, or anyone else, personally or professionally.