If you are a traditional-age college student, social media has always existed in your world. In fact, some of the earliest social media platforms (ever heard of MySpace?) have been created, evolved, and become extinct in your lifetime. Although sometimes it may seem like “anything goes” is the standard for social media content, Consider the following “Rules of Netiquette” adapted from Jordan Smith’s Communicating at Work (2019). Note that the rules were originally published at about the same time as the earliest social media sites were launched (in the mid-1990s), in an apparent effort to establish expectations for socially acceptable conduct in the internet’s newest playgrounds.
Virginia Shea’s Core Rules of Netiquette
- Remember the human on the other side of the electronic communication.
- Adhere to the same standards of behaviour online that you follow in real life.
- Know where you are in cyberspace.
- Respect other people’s time and bandwidth.
- Make yourself look good online.
- Share expert knowledge.
- Keep flame wars under control.
- Respect other people’s privacy.
- Don’t abuse your power.
- Be forgiving of other people’s mistakes (Shea, 1994 as cited by Smith, 2019).
In fact, to the eye of a technical writer, at least some of the netiquette rules may appear vague and therefore ineffective. While various interpretations of these rules have been referenced over the years, the general consensus seems to be that the overarching standard of netiquette, or socially acceptable behavior on the internet, is the good old “golden rule” of treating others as you wish to be treated.
This chapter aims to help students explore the situations in which use of social media platforms may impact an individual’s professional identity and career; and to examine the scenarios in which your use of social media may be part of your professional activities. Instead of wagging a finger and imploring you to behave responsibly online, the material included here is intended to empower you so you may prepare for and identify the situations in which your careful and appropriate use of social media platforms may be required as part of your professional duties.
For purposes of this chapter’s content, social media refers to any of the various internet tools that provide a means of instant publication of content online by an individual or entity. Social media provides services promoting social connections in exchange for advertising revenue, among other income streams.
Take a moment to list each of the social media systems with which you interact, noting different uses you may have for each. Some students, for example, might only use Facebook to communicate with grandparents; while the same students maintain continuous virtual conversations with multiple friends every day using Snapchat. How do you use social media?
While individuals frequently maintain user accounts on multiple social media systems, organizations of all kinds are developing more active social media presence on a variety of platforms. It is quite possible you will regularly publish posts on behalf of your employer while representing and maintaining your own professional online profile simultaneously. In fact, depending upon your experience and the online presence and ambitions of a potential employer, an entry on your resume indicating you have “launched, grown, and maintained” social media presence could increase your marketability as an entry-level professional.
Work with a partner to search the internet for a company you might want to work for someday. What you can determine about the company’s use of social media to market themselves and their products and services? Does the company have an active presence on multiple social media channels? For example, do they interact on Twitter several times a day? Do they run advertisements on Facebook that are the same ones that appear on the company’s website or pop up on television or Google searches? Record your observations below and be prepared to discuss them in class or a written assignment as directed by your instructor.
What is the state of your online identity?
The day your parents or your high school teachers warned you about is fast approaching. Well, one of the days.
It’s the one where they get to say something like, “What did we tell you about posting pictures on the internet of yourself being unsafe/acting inappropriately/blahblahblah?” Or maybe it will sound more like, “You had better hope the interviewers don’t search your Twitter feed/ Facebook timeline/blahblahblah!”
Yes, the day is coming when you might “learn the hard way” that nothing ever really disappears from the internet. You may have heard reference to this phenomenon as a person’s digital footprint, which is a legend of sorts to the map of one’s interactions with all facets of the internet. An estimated 55 to 70 percent of employers search social media profiles of prospective hires in the recruiting and screening process, and chances are high that your digital footprint will be reviewed before you interview for your first professional position. While an investigation of the information you have published about yourself is hardly an invasion of your privacy, you will probably agree that being aware it will happen should motivate you to make good decisions about what you share on social media.
According to authors Mary Madden and Aaron Smith, even 10 years before this textbook was published an awareness of digital footprints and their implications led to efforts by many young professionals to manage their reputations (Pew Research Center, 2010):
Over time, several major trends have indicated growth in activities related to online reputation management:
- Online reputation-monitoring via search engines has increased – 57% of adult internet users now use search engines to find information about themselves online, up from 47% in 2006.
- Activities tied to maintaining an online identity have grown as people post information on profiles and other virtual spaces – 46% of online adults have created their own profile on a social networking site, up from just 20% in 2006.
- Monitoring the digital footprints of others has also become much more common – 46% of internet users search online to find information about people from their past, up from 36% in 2006. Likewise, 38% have sought information about their friends, up from 26% in 2006.
Young adults are the most active online reputation managers in several dimensions. When compared with older users, they more often customize what they share and whom they share it with.
Take a few moments to find out what the internet says about you. Search your name in Google to see what images and other items the engine finds. If you have done such a search in the past, do you now see different information than before? What do you see that may be odd or surprising?
Minimize negative outcomes
Whether or not you have suffered any undesirable effects as a result of your own digital footprint, you can imagine what that particular disaster might look like in your life. Think about any of the news headlines in recent years about public figures, often in the political arena, who have found themselves backpedaling and stammering and attempting to explain, excuse, or justify images and comments they published to the internet with a hasty push of the “send” button. Saying that irresponsible use of social media can spell the end of a promising career is not too much of a stretch in the current political and social climate. Consider the following anecdote adapted and used with permission from SentiOne’s blog written by Mathilda Hartnell (11 May 2020):
Gilbert Gottfried – the unfunny comedian
Discuss the cringe-worthy example presented above with your classmates. What do you and your peers think about the actions Gilbert Gottfried’s employer took in response to his social media posts? Discuss a scenario in your anticipated profession that might be equally damaging, both to the employee and to the company. See if you can find another example of a business’s reputation being damaged by an individual employee’s actions on social media. Make notes below and discuss in class as directed by your instructor.
Ultimately, the only reliable way to minimize negative outcomes from ill-advised social media interactions is to avoid the negative outcomes altogether – by choosing not to post online.
Optimizing positive outcomes
While the risk of causing damage to your reputation and that of your employer is all too real, appropriate and responsible use of social media can be equally powerful in supporting and advancing the vision and the objectives of professionals and the organizations they represent. Recognizing this potential, an increasing number of public and private entities take deliberate steps to establish and develop their own presence on various social media platforms. For example, consider an organization providing emergency humanitarian services, like the American Red Cross: an entity like many others with an extensive presence online at www.redcross.org, as well as active profiles in the main social media channels.
Activity: checking out the public information
Working with a partner or in a small group in class, search online and review the “About Us>Who We Are” page for the American Red Cross; as well as the published profiles for the same organization on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Work together to respond to the following questions.
- What is the organization’s mission? How do you know?
- Collect some data about the organization’s social media accounts, including: the number of followers they have on each platform; the total number of posts they have made since joining each social network; and an average number of posts they make in a week.
- Review the posts uploaded by the organization in each of its accounts and discuss your observations as a group. What, if anything, do you find remarkable about the organization, its online presence, its communication, or other aspects you observed? What questions arise in your discussion?
- Identify an example in the organization’s posting history that demonstrates the group’s commitment to its stated mission. If you were responsible for their social media channels, explain how you might improve the effectiveness of the Red Cross online.
Professional identity: making the necessary switch
Do you agree that you and your peers join most social media networks (with the possible exception of LinkedIn) for entertainment purposes rather than for conducting business or supporting your education? This chapter is not intended to disrupt your use of social networks for the purposes you choose. Preparing for a professional career may include refining your use of online social platforms in order to tidy up your digital footprint: however, it doesn’t mean you can’t socialize with your online acquaintances. Just go forward armed with the knowledge that anything you upload to the internet – even after you remove the content – will be forever attached to you as its author, so it is critical that you make good choices.
In the chapter of this textbook that covers electronic correspondence, you learned that the easiest way for both parties to a communication to ensure clarity is maintaining a formal tone in written exchanges. Follow the same approach whenever you are engaging with social media in a capacity where you either: 1) represent your employer and their interests; or 2) may be interacting with others who have a professional relationship with you or your employer. No matter how comfortable you are with your colleagues, college friends, or members of the management team, err on the side of formality in all communication with others you met through business connections.
As a college student who is developing the skills and experience to proceed into a professional career, you are in an excellent position to prepare for your future success. Now is the time to practice diligence in choosing how you want to be represented on the worldwide web. You are most likely already appearing in search results on Google: so, if you are concerned about any social media or other content you suspect could be detrimental to your reputation, it’s time to start cleaning up your digital footprint.
In much the same way that you want to be represented in a positive light on social media, your employer and other professional connections depend on their own solid and unwavering reputations. To the extent you are responsible for producing social media content that represents your organization, use extreme caution and keep the mission and values of the organization clearly in sight. Remember too that, even if you are acting in a personal capacity, your own professional reputation is too valuable to scuttle because of haste or inattention.
Draft a document in the form of an email addressed to your peers. Craft the email message to include what you deem to be the Top 5 things to do – and the Top 5 things to avoid – starting today to insure the readers will maintain social media accounts that support their efforts to obtain professional employment.
Hartnell, M. (2020, 11 May). Careers ruined by social media. SentiOne blog. https://sentione.com/blog/careers-ruined-by-social-media
Madden, M., & Smith, A. (2010, May 26). Reputation management and social media: how people monitor their identity and search for others online. Retrieved from Pew Research Center Web site: https://pewrsr.ch/2IBDWvV. (License)
Smith, J. (2019). Communication at work: a college-to-career guide to success (2019) partially adapted from business communication for success (2015). eCampusOntario. License: CC-BY-4.0. https://bit.ly/375TTny.