Social media can be great but sometimes, especially when used carelessly, it can land the user in hot water. The consequences can serious when it causes friction between employer and employee. There are many potential pitfalls when it comes to mixing social media and work. Here are some of them:
1. Using social media during work time
Many people have a quick browse of Facebook or other social media sites at work. Infact, some studies suggest that 75% of employees access social media during work hours. This may not be considered such a big deal in some occupations but in others it is simply not tolerated. Therefore any employee that posts a status update, uploads a photo or ‘likes’ another user’s content during work hours runs the risk of being ‘seen’ online by their boss or another work colleague. It is common sense that you should not make yourself known on social media if you are not meant to be using it at that moment in time! However, some users may not realise that certain social media sites, such as Facebook, automatically display when the user was last online. Therefore the user may, unbeknown to them, still make themself visible on social media if they log on during the working day; regardless of whether they actually comment or interact with others.
2. Bad mouthing your job
Things get even more serious when employees take to social media to vent their frustration over their employer or about their job. Most employers now have a social media clause in their contracts which states that an employee must not discuss any work related business online. In 2008, Virgin airlines fired 13 cabin crew after they posted social media messages which “brought the company into disrepute”.
This next example has become a bit of an urban legend online, and true or not, it illustrates the point perfectly: girl sacked after calling her employer a pervy w*nker on Facebook!
Likewise, this girl was fired after complaining that her job was boring and it will come as no surprise that this teacher who used social media to joke that she should drown her students and commented that she “hated their guts” was fired after her employers found out!
3. Sharing confidential information
More problems arise when user divulge personal or confidential information online. An extreme example of this is the juror who used a Facebook poll to decide which way a child abduction and sexual assault court case should go!
Health care professionals have also fallen foul of this mistake, for example this doctor was reprimanded after she revealed patient information online, and last year eight members of staff were dismissed by the Nottingham University Hospitals Trust after breaching patient confidentiality, including one nurse who uploaded a photo of a patient to Facebook.
4. Uploading embarrassing or inappropriate content
Embarrassing or inappropriate content may be an employees downfall, for example photographs that show the user taking illegal substances, or behaving badly while drunk and in a state of undress; Or perhaps the racist/sexist/ageist/homophobic status or joke that they chose to share. Inappropriate content may lead existing employers to decide that an individual is portraying their business in a bad light or is not the most responsible candidate for promotion to a superior role. Likewise, potential employers may vet prospective employees based on their social media profiles. It has been estimated that the number of employers using social media to vet job applicants may be as high at 91%! Therefore a poorly managed social media profile could act as the worst reference ever.
This woman found out the hard way when she was fired over a photograph which portrayed her being disrespectful towards the tomb of a soldier in the Arlington National Cemetery. Likewise, this bartenders inappropriate racist rant cost her job.
Controversially, this gay water polo coach was fired after complaints about his personal photos which included him pictured next to two drag queens (big deal, right?) and about to ‘eat a corn dog’ (presumably implying that the photo was suggestive… but is this really enough to deem someone not suitable for their job as a water polo coach?). Another controversial story is the teacher who was allegedly fired because a parent complained about her holiday photos on Facebook which showed her holding a glass of wine and a pint of beer!
5. Not being careful what you ‘like’
One last tip…
Pages that you ‘like’ on Facebook often show up in your ‘friends’ newsfeeds (and other social media sites often function in a similar way). So perhaps you’ll think twice next time you add your boss to Facebook and then like the ‘busty housewives’ page…
The moral of the story?
I am not suggesting that social media should not be fun or that you always have to be 110% professional at all times. However, you should take time to define exactly who your audience is on each of your social media accounts and act appropriately. If Facebook is strictly for your closest friends and family then make sure your privacy settings reflect this! Also, do not allow privacy settings to lull you into a false sense of security, they are not fool proof, for example your content can be shared by others and this then moves outside of your circle of control; so although privacy settings are important and they do protect you to an extent, you should still refrain from posting potentially damaging material.
When it comes to posting on social media – If in doubt, leave it out!