It's tempting to want to be the first one to share exciting news, or to congratulate someone on a milestone or to forward a funny meme or joke, but doing so on social media can prove problematic if you're not careful.
As you separate from the military, using social media to find and pursue jobs, grow your professional network and build your personal brand is smart. People around the world, in all different jobs, sectors and companies, are using social media to expand their impact. But how you show up and engage online is tricky: While you should share, comment, post and engage with others, posting the wrong content or sharing in the wrong way can offer lasting damage to your career and reputation.
To guard against a career-ending social media mistake, before you post something online, ask yourself:
1. Does This Post Show Me in a Positive Light?
When we share content online, we're showing others our values, goals, hopes, passions and interests. If you consistently share information and insights in your field of expertise, you reinforce that you are committed to your work and career path. When you share information that is generic, random or too diverse, you risk confusing online users who lose track of what you care about and can offer.
2. Could This Post, Image or Message Be Deemed Offensive or Inappropriate?
While you might think a joke is funny, it will be problematic for you if someone in your workplace is offended or upset by it. Similarly, many companies have guidelines about the tone of individuals' social media posts, and going against that can show disrespect for the company's values and brand.
Even if no one told you that your post offended, annoyed or upset them, you could be perceived as insensitive, tone deaf, biased or ignorant to common protocols in your industry or culture. When in doubt, leave the post out.
3. Is the Information Privileged or Confidential?
Without realizing it, you could inadvertently share private information. I remember the story of a professional who shared his excitement when his colleague shared the news with him that she was to become a mother for the first time.
He knew of the struggles his colleague and her husband had gone through trying to grow their family. An excited "Congratulations on the new baby!" posted to Facebook landed wrong when he later learned his colleague hadn't told her boss yet. If you aren't sure whether the information you want to share could be confidential or private, first consult with the parties involved to ensure it's OK to share.
4. Am I Taking Credit for the Work of Someone Else?
Without realizing it, you could mistakenly share news or updates that position you as trying to grab someone else's attention or recognition. For example, sharing the news with your online network that your team won a big contract might be someone else's news to share first, not yours. While it's fun to be first to share positive information, ensure it's truly yours to share.
5. Have I Checked for Grammar and Spelling Errors?
Social media followers will typically forgive a typo here and there, but repeatedly making grammar and spelling errors will reflect on your attention to detail, ability to focus and the quality of your message. As more online users get lazier with their grammar and spelling, professionals who are careful about their use of language stand out as more polished.
Social media has a casual, relaxed quality to it. But remaining focused on how you're communicating online ensures you won't make a career-damaging mistake.
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