Social media is the internet club that isn’t exclusive to weekends and has no cover charge…everyone’s on it and it’s free (for the most part).
I believe that the topic of social media and professionalism is very important to discuss considering almost all business college students have some type of social media platform and almost all business college students want to get hired by a firm at some point in their lives. However, it can be difficult to balance a personal social media platform yet establish a professional presence online without experiencing the consequences.
Now more than ever, bosses and human resources managers emphasize the importance of professionalism online because they will be looking to see how we represent ourselves and interact. Even business textbooks such as Business Communication: Developing Leaders For a Networked World by Peter W. Cardon dedicates a whole chapter to social media and business communication. Hopefully, this post will help guide business students on how to manage their personal and professional social media platforms effectively and realistically.
There’s no denying that social media as deeply impacted our society over the last few years. The social media boom created an innovative way for people to network, communicate and interact.
As you may know, it’s been adopted for computer and mobile devices. In this day and age, individuals can always remain in touch with the world through social media where information about news, ideas, opinion, events, music, art, clothing, food, business, video games, sports, movies, shows, politics, and so much more exists!
Not to mention, everyone has a platform where they can personalize themselves in the way in which they desire others to perceive them. This entails profile pictures from the best angle with a nice outfit on, humorous or serious statuses and even pictures with friends, family, or celebrities.
Great. What’s the problem?
Social media became bigger than life and is now used for purposes beyond personal networking…business networking. Majority of the successful businesses we know have a Facebook, if not an Instagram account as well. Businesses use social media as a way to display its company’s personalities (branding and marketing). Of course it’s an advertising tool and a means of updating consumers on the newest trends in the organization but it does allow consumers to interact with businesses more directly and assess its personalities (what kind of things do they post or talk about besides their products or services; what’s their take on this or that issue?).
According to an article posted by Emily Wright (2014) entitled Small business tips: how to use social media to boost business, “Social media is transforming the way business is carried out. A recent study by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK found that nearly 80% of consumers would be more inclined to buy more often in the future because of a brand’s presence on social media” (para. 1). Even better, social media is another way businesses can conduct research about consumer preferences and attitudes for free (most of the time)!
Perfect! So what’s the problem again? It’s hard to mix business with pleasure.
Soon-to-be business professionals and young business professionals are struggling with this concept. Although the textbooks have warned business students about it, for some, it may be too late. Think about the amount of business students who were turned down because of content on their social media or the amount of MBA students who didn’t receive a job because of a picture on Instagram? Social media has become an integral component of our lives because it provides us with the freedom to do as we please… right?
Are individuals really free to post what they want, especially when we are told that what we posts never goes away? Social media is human resources’ playground as a means to truly assess a potential candidate’s personality and lifestyle. According to Heather R. Huhman (2013) in 6 Reasons Social Media Got People Fired,
“Before even beginning his new job, this next guy lost it because of a tweet. After interviewing at Cisco Systems, a man wrote:
‘Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.’
A channel partner advocate for Cisco Alert found the tweet and replied:
‘Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web'” (para. 9-12).
What about a politically driven post that offends a human resources representative? What happens then? Wait, it gets worse….social media actually helps you network with businesses and employers too so it’s necessary to have.
Social media: You can’t live with it and you can’t live without it.
Business students and professionals need social media to network and establish an online professional presence but must be careful in the way in which they present themselves. Social media may seem personal but consider it public all the time.
How do you manage a personal connection with people but also establish a professional presence online? Let’s take the case of the individual who was fired from Cisco for his tweet and explain what he could’ve done to balance his personal and professional online profile in order to avoid termination.
Here’s what the Business Communication: Developing Leaders For a Networked World by Peter W. Cardon (curriculum) says:
There are four types of profiles that an individual can establish themselves online with which include a personal and private profile, a professional and private profile, a personal and public profile and a professional and public profile.
Based on the personal and private profile, which can be for family and friends, an individual can create a personal blog in which the individual relays messages about his / her ability to care, be competent (in regard to taking care of or helping someone), and be attentive to one’s feelings as well as have good character. The intent would be to gain a reputation for being a kind, reliable, caring, trustworthy, considerate, and loving person.
For a personal and private profile for colleagues such as a corporate blog, an individual also wants to send a message that conveys his / her competency and care but in regard to his / her job performance and organizational commitment. This should help provide the individual with a reputation for being competent, team oriented, dependable, skilled, ethical and caring in the workplace.
Social media websites such as a Facebook help for personal and public profiles for the society at large. The desired message for the individual to relay is his / her degree of competency and care in regard to his / her abilities, experiences, beliefs and social values. From this, an individual will most likely gain the reputation for being a caring, moral, understanding, open, skilled, and capable person.
Lastly, a professional and public profile for professional peers would be a site like LinkedIn. Similar to the others, an individual wants to display his /her degree of competency and care in regard to his / her profession. Additionally, he / she aspires to gain the reputation for being a professional, disciplined, competent, collaborative, and kind person (Cardon, 2016, p. 238).
In a sense, individuals have to balance their professional and personal presence online and may even have to choose one over the other.
Here’s what I say:
Social media and business don’t mix and you do have to essentially choose professional over personal if you value getting and keeping a job. I don’t personally think that social media sites should be a diary about all of one’s thoughts, feelings and experiences. However, it’s intended to be a platform where people can be themselves, have free expression and share various aspects about their lives with others.
While many business textbooks talk about the importance of social media as a personal branding tool for employment opportunities as well as the risks of gaining a bad reputation based on one’s posts or pictures, most textbooks don’t necessarily explain how to balance the two types of profiles: personal and professional.
Why? Because it doesn’t really exist…everything is public anyway so people always have to be on their best behavior.
We may want to believe that privacy settings will be enough to hide unwanted people from our social media sites, but this is usually not the case. Anything that a person puts on the internet is somehow public. In other words, an individual may want to be Sienna on their personal site but have to be Ms. Jeffries on their professional social media platform. It’s very hard to balance the two without being contradicting.
I argue that this only works but for so long until a situation happens when something on one’s private profile gets back to their employer and he / she is displeased (remember out guy at Cisco). But remember, you don’t want to be a dried prune lacking personality at work either. Individuals must learn how to display their vibrant personalities while being professional too.
Business students and young professionals do have to prioritize which type of profile is important to them. They also need to personalize their personal platforms in a more appealing way. For example, the picture of that individual smoking a hookah at a bar on a Friday night or grinding on some random guy / girl may be need to be changed to a picture of that person going out with friends in an attractive but appropriate outfit.
Yes, it seems deceiving but really it’s not. We have to shape our personal and professional images without actually being deceptive or untruthful. We have different personalities that come out at different times in different environments, but the true essence of our being always shines. For example, if you’re a good person, that will be clear in any environment you’re in.
To sum it up, The Cisco employee who had a personal yet public profile needed to relay messages that allowed him to appear caring, moral, skilled and competent, instead of money-hungry and ungrateful for a job opportunity. In other words, he needed to portray himself in a more positive way online, especially if his tweets were public, by prioritizing his professional presence before his personal one (which got him fired).
Social media is a tricky topic because a tool once used for personal reasons expanded its used for professional purposes as well. When trying to find or maintain a position at an organization, it’s important that people maintain a consistent image of themselves on and offline. The easiest way to do this is by de-personalizing one’s personal profile with inappropriate information and sprucing up one’s professional profile with appealing information to avoid any conflicts. Leave the hookah and grinding pictures for a mental image rather than an Instagram and Facebook post.
Here’s a great video from a YouTube link in which an academic coach from the Russell Conwell Learning Center at Temple University talks about the do’s and don’ts of social media as a professional.
Can you have your cake and eat it too? Sort of, but you can’t eat the entire thing in one bite.
Cardon, P.W. (2016). Business Communication: Developing Leaders For a Networked World. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Huhman, H.R. (2013, June 20.) 6 Reasons Social Media Got People Fired. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/6-reasons-social-media-got-people-fired-2013-7
[Russell Conwell Learning Center]. (2014, January 6.). Professional and Social Media NEW. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WISPz8MzEdE
Social Media- WeAreTheCity. [online image]. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.wearethecity.com/category/career-development/social-media/
Women Eating Chocoloate Cake. [online image]. (2013). Retrieved from http://bodytransformerbootcamp.co.uk/why-you-can-eat-the-chocolate-cake/
Wright, E. (2014, June 23). Small business tips: how to use social media to boost business. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2013/aug/29/social-media-boost-business-tips