There is no doubt that social media has provided organisations with a fresh avenue to have direct contact with their key stakeholders. It provides useful opportunities for companies to be active and promote themselves online.

But we have all heard stories, often of high profile sports celebrities – but sometimes ordinary employees too – losing their job as a result of social media posts they have made that don’t reflect the ethos of their employers.

People sometimes seem to forget that the internet is not anonymous, when in fact, people should assume that everything they write can be traced back to them personally, and possibly even the company they work for. A good rule of thumb to adopt is that there is no longer a clear boundary between personal life and work life on social media.

This development is not new. As the ABC reported in 2018 after the sacking of a Cricket Australia employee because of her social media posts, “The erosion of the boundaries between private and work spheres is well-established. But the perils of social media ‘opinion creep’ mean everything can be notionally viewed as work-related.”

When posting online, it is important to remember that you represent the company you work for just as much as you do offline. As with all media, the way a company is represented publicly on social media affects the perception that clients, potential clients, business partners, the financial services industry, government and employees have of it.

As all personal social media posts inevitably reflect in some way on your professional profile, as well as on your employer, LinkedIn – in particular – should not be used for trolling, abusing, or posting any comment or material that your clients, colleagues or employer may find offensive.

However, there is an increasing proliferation on LinkedIn of people posting rude, insulting and just plain ignorant comments on other people’s professional posts. These type of comments have no place on LinkedIn (or, arguably, on any social media platform at all).

If in doubt, leave it out

It is simply unprofessional to express yourself in a way that belittles other people’s views, especially in a business environment.

And why would you want to? The purpose of social media platforms like LinkedIn is to link with other professionals and business people to highlight skills and achievements. It benefits its users through relationship building and networking, expands understanding of industry issues, and assists career progress.

So it is hard to understand why anyone would want to show that they are rude, thoughtless, bullying individuals who can’t express themselves in a civilised, articulate way? This type of behaviour raises questions about them as people to do business with, as colleagues, as employers and as employees.

It shouldn’t be all about you

In that vein, it does seem a pity that some of the “it’s all about me” habits of other social media platforms have also infected LinkedIn – and we are seeing more posts that are really boasts.

Before Covid-19, posts like: “I’m honoured to have been asked to speak at a conference organised by the No-one’s-ever-heard-of-them-Association” were commonplace. Since the lockdown, posts along the lines of: “It’s very gratifying that people were so interested in the podcast I organised on (insert-whatever-subject-here)” are now the norm.

This is despite the fact that the best endorsement is always from a third party.  Having other people complement or congratulate you is much stronger than saying it yourself. It’s the way trust is built and reputations are made and it is simply more persuasive.

It seems LinkedIn has become cluttered with boasting and self-promotion. But think how much more powerful it is to have someone of influence recommend your blog to others, publicly or privately.

Another communication 101 rule the “all about me” post ignores, is that messages and information should be developed that are of interest the recipient. All too often however, self-promotion and ego-boosting posts on LinkedIn are getting in the way of useful information and the opportunity to truly connect.

As a result, its benefit as a site that brings business people together, and helps them connect, risks being lost because of irrelevant information overload.

Tips and tricks for social media safety

With all social media, what is said this week is there for a long time and can end up being seen by many more people than the writer ever envisaged.

When posting comments on any social media network, but particularly LinkedIn, people should ask themselves a few basic questions.

  • What will my present employer think of this?
  • What would a future employer think, and could it jeopardise future job prospects?
  • What will my clients think of this?
  • Will the reader want to do business with me?
  • Will this make me enemies?
  • Is it an insulting comment that I would never make in a face-to-face situation?
  • Is it relevant?
  • How important is it really that I make this point?
  • Will it attract damaging and emotional responses?

Indeed perhaps the simplest rule of thumb is “would I say this to someone in person, in the office or at a business meeting?”

If the answer is “no”, and if a social post makes you look unprofessional or ignorant, it is best left unsaid. Especially if it’s written on the spur of the moment.

That doesn’t mean that thoughts can’t be expressed in a way that shows an enquiring mind willing to express a contradictory view. But it is important to not be rude or disparaging of others. It is not professional, or personable, and you never know who you might be offending.

So, if in doubt, leave it out, and never post a comment written as a kneejerk reaction.

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