Social Media Rules to Live By

June 24, 2009

By Tina M. Seidel, President, Sanford-Brown College - Collinsville

I'm a Facebook newbie. I joined the network earlier this year somewhat as joke with my teenaged sons. To my surprise I reconnected with many people with whom I grew up and with friends who had moved away from the area. These reconnections would not have occurred without Facebook. However, recently I made a mistake posting a picture and realized that once something is online you can't take it back. Luckily my post was harmless, I quickly corrected it and it didn't drastically change my life. This minor incident made me think that some warnings should be issued regarding use of social media.

We have all read or heard about crazy things being stated on social media outlets with unpleasant consequences. I think that some things may be unintentional mistakes and because they can't be retracted become larger than the creator intended. Additionally, speaking as an adult, I know that younger people tend to live more in the present and not always consider the future ramifications of their actions. With that being said, I offer the following suggestions to help you keep from becoming the next urban legend.

Set your privacy levels appropriately. Remember, what is created electronically has a very long shelf life. If you intend make private remarks, keep them private. My rule of thumb is a public place like a grocery store. What are you willing to say loudly at the check out line at the grocery store? Those are the things that are most likely appropriate to post on your social media account. The rest either needs to be said in person or in a private email. Also remember that as you sit behind your computer screen you are not truly anonymous.

Select your electronic friends carefully. Often times when you update your profile, post new pictures, or take a survey your friends are notified. Make sure your list is intentional and periodically review who you are updating.

Remember that much of the online activity comes along with a date or time stamp. Are your boss and co-workers included in your friend list? Is it appropriate that you found a black-sheep on "Farmtown" during the time when you were supposed to be in training?

Be careful of the groups that you join. Some may seem like they are a joke, but the joke could be on you. This is especially true if you are in school. Maybe it's a myth, but I have heard stories about students being suspended due to belonging to some crazy-named group that they thought was so far-fetched it had to be a joke.

Carefully select the photos you post. The crazy picture of you at the party last weekend when you were supposed to be at the library with your classmates working on a project can become electronic evidence against you. Recruiters and HR professionals now use social media sites to check on potential job candidates. What is ok among friends may not fly if an employer can view it online.

My general rule with my social media is I don't mix business with pleasure. I have a professional LinkedIn profile for work which is where I network with former business associates and I belong to professional groups. My Facebook account specifically excludes all professional colleagues and it is where I found all my long-lost friends! The lines of personal and professional lives have grown more blurred recently, and we all seem to have more 'public' profiles than ever before, but you still have the power to control your image.

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