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Summary:

The posts on an organization’s social media accounts reflect on it in a very public way. People’s impressions of the company can be positive or negative depending on whether the people posting to those accounts represent the company in a professional and consistent manner.

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The posts on an organization’s social media accounts reflect on that company in a very public way. People’s impressions of the company can be positive or negative depending on whether the people posting to those accounts are representing the company in a professional and consistent manner.

Earth Class Email provides a pretty good example of the things that can go wrong. The person in charge of the company’s email Twitter account (@earthclassmail) allowed themselves to be goaded into an ongoing and negative discussion with a “troll” account set up specifically for the purpose of annoying the company. The company representative’s posts came across as angry, containing typos and the kind of language that isn’t appropriate when speaking on behalf of an organization, like telling people to “get a life,” for example.

Picking the Right Person

From an organization’s perspective, it is critical that you pick the right person to represent your company through your social media accounts. This should be someone with good judgment and experience of interacting with the public. I see too many companies delegating their social media accounts to an intern or the most junior member of the team, but this could be a devastating mistake. There are, of course, exceptions; I’ve had a few star interns. It might help to think about it this way: would you put this person in front of the media or allow them to conduct interviews with the press? If so, they would probably be a good candidate to manage your social media efforts. If not, you should look for someone that you can trust in that position. One good strategy is to pair someone less experienced who can do more of the legwork with someone who is very media-savvy and can act as a mentor to provide guidance about the best way to represent the organization.

Representing Your Organization

There are a few things that whoever is posting to the company’s social media accounts should keep in mind:

  • Assume that everything you post is public and permanent. Deleted posts are almost always cached and still available somewhere, so be careful about what you post.
  • Use the right tone. Think about whether the tones of your posts match the company culture and ideals. A fun, hip startup would probably use different language than a company in a more conservative industry.
  • Never post when you’re angry. If someone has you really fired up, take some time to cool off before you post anything in response.
  • Always proofread. Yes, mistakes and typos happen to the best of us, but taking a little extra time to proofread will help ensure that such mistakes are rare.
  • Use the “mom test.” Before posting anything, think about whether you would feel embarrassed if your mom (or boss, or other role model) saw it. If so, then it probably isn’t appropriate to post on behalf of your company. The “newspaper test” is another good one — would you be embarrassed if you saw the post quoted in the newspaper?

Personal Accounts

This is where it can get a little tricky. The company that I work for doesn’t get to control my personal accounts on social networks, and they don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t post. However, that doesn’t mean that the things we post on our personal accounts don’t have consequences in our professional lives. Heather Armstrong provided one well-known example of how talking about your work experiences on your personal accounts can get you fired, even if you are relating them in a humorous way. Another example comes from the personal Twitter account of James Andrews, a public relations professional who made some negative remarks about the hometown of his firm’s biggest client, which generated quite a bit of negative publicity for his company. In general, I avoid making negative comments that relate to my employer or my job, but each of us needs to figure out where we want to draw the line and live with the consequences of those decisions.

What are your tips for making sure that you don’t become an example of what not to do in social media?

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  1. Good list Dawn.

    I would also add “avoid alcohol”.

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  2. Good Post Dawn, specially love the example from Earth Class Mail, seeing answers like that to a customer, makes you think the company isn’t serious, even if they are right, that is not the way to go about it.

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  3. Excellent advise! I advise clients to always assume that everything they post anywhere regardless if in a password protected private forum will be read by everyone on the net.

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  4. Great topic! Ironically, I just posted a similar post on my blog today called “Why It’s Time to Give Up Toxic Gossip in the Professional World. http: zenfulcommunications.blogspot.com/2010/10/why-it-time-to-give-up-toxic-gossip-in.html These are FANTASTIC tips! My biggest pet peeve is the unprofessional “professionals” who post harassing, negative and caustic remarks/posts on my LinkedIn groups. People need to stop acting so juvenile on social media. The Earth Class Mail example is a classic example of how completely unprofessional people act on Twitter. I’m a freelance copywriter and online marketing consultant, and I can’t believe the horrible things I read on some of my LI groups. How are these people actually maintaining a client base and/or even landing clients? I wouldn’t hire them based on their LI comments alone.

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  5. Great post Dawn. Right on point.

    Adding on to your comment about personal accounts: “that doesn’t mean that the things we post on our personal accounts don’t have consequences in our professional lives.”

    While you may not get fired for comments you make via your personal social media profiles, you may make it a lot harder to find a job down the road. Almost every HR rep Googles the people they interview.

    Not only will they be looking at your online resume, etc., to cross-reference your qualifications, but also whether you display the traits of a mature professional with sound judgment.

    When they search you, will they find professional representations of you and your work? Or will they find photos on your Facebook wall of you doing tequila shots at your birthday party?…

    Great article on Mashable that compliments this post quite well: http://mashable.com/2010/10/11/job-seekers-social-media-future/

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  6. I would agree that professionalism is important but I would disagree that it is paramount at all times. I had a tense conversation with a client recently in which they wanted me to be more “professional” with their facebook page. I explained that while professionalism is important, on social media being engaging, interesting and friendly is often more important and that sometimes professionalism gets in the way of that.

    To build your presence on social media, especially if you are starting from scratch, it is important to capture attention. Professional is often a synonym for serious and being serious all the time is not the best way to be interesting and engaging and to capture the attention of would be fans or followers.

    Of course obviously these things change from industry to industry. “Professional” becomes paramount if you are representing a large corporate organisation that already has a big reputation to maintain.

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