Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Social media can be a highly useful tool to promote your brand—both personally and professionally. The question is: are you representing yourself well on social media? Do your posts reflect your values and beliefs?
Whatever you do, avoid these pitfalls:
Losing your temper. If you feel your hackles rising, walk away before sharing your thoughts online. It’s never acceptable to harass, insult, name call, or explode on social media. Learn from New Mexico coffee shop owner Michael Palombo, who went on an anti-Semitic rant against his landlord. First, don’t be a bigot. And second, if you can’t help being a bigot, control yourself.
Saying something you wouldn’t want your mom to read. In my previous company, one of our founders used to say “Don’t do anything you wouldn't want to see in the newspaper the next day.” He coined that phrase in the 1960s, but it’s even more important to keep this in mind during our Internet era. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, or if you wouldn’t want your employer/mom/neighbor/child to read it, don’t say it. The Internet has a forever memory.
Failing to use Facebook privacy protections. If you’re not protecting your privacy, you shouldn’t be using Facebook. Learn how to lock down your profile so that people outside of your friend group cannot see your posts, friends, or information about you. Unless you are commenting on a closed or secret group, your comments might be seen by others. Company pages and many other pages and groups are open to the public, so even if you have a private profile, your comments might not be private. Your friends might also not have privacy protections on their own pages.
Intertwining your personal and professional personas on Twitter. Potential employers AND potential dating partners regularly check online profiles before hiring. You might be screwing up your chances before they even meet you. Do you rant against #45 on Twitter? If so, use an alias at the very least. I’d recommend a professional Twitter handle and a personal one, to keep your personal opinions separate from your professional activities...and keep your professional persona professional.
Screwing up your professional persona on LinkedIn. It never ceases to amaze me how people show their unpleasant sides on LinkedIn, with their career affiliations right below their names. This afternoon I read a post about the students at Georgetown University electing to pay a small reparations fee ($27/semester), which would go toward the descendants of the 272 slaves Georgetown sold in 1838 to pay off its debt and save it from financial ruin. I was shocked to read all manner of racist commentary, laid out clearly for the world to see. Don’t do this. Keep your commentary on LinkedIn confined to your work or professional interests. (For me, these are communications, women's advancement, STEM, equity and inclusion, sustainability, community involvement, and leadership.) Stay true to your personal brand and values.
What’s my personal brand?
Just as companies define their brands and ensure that their values are reflected in their communications, so should we define our personal brands (who you are) on social media. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Consider what you do well and what you have to offer to the world. Put it into words. Share meaningful content online and chime in on productive conversations. Keep it positive. Build an online network. Make social media work for you.