Social Media: Managing Personal Content…or Not

Once you take your trash out to the curb, it’s public property. Is posting personal information on Facebook just as public?

By Brian Hochhalter

I recently attended a seminar where a number of IT hiring managers and Human Resource professionals were discussing how large employers are balancing demand by their younger employees for the latest devices and technologies. They also talked about managing risks associated with integrating newer technologies with legacy systems.

I asked the panel how their company managed personal content that their employees post on social media. The answer I received was, “We don’t.” There was some clarification that only in cases where the content was harmful to the company or another employee would they intervene.

That was what they publicly said, but I’m not buying it. According to the NCSL, there are laws in many states that prevent companies from requiring employees to provide passwords. However, many employers feel that they need to access employees’ personal accounts to protect proprietary information or trade secrets, to comply with federal financial regulations, or to prevent themselves from being exposed to legal liabilities. What is public is easily accessible and may include not just what you post about yourself, but what others might post about you as well.

Managers, supervisors, and fellow employees may naturally make judgments or assumptions based on the social media content of an employee or fellow worker. There most likely will not be an overt reaction such as disciplinary action or termination to distasteful or offensive content–not to mention comments on after-hours drinking or drug use–because that could lead to discrimination liability. However, there may be subtle changes in how management, supervisors, and fellow workers view you at work that could impact your professional career in ways that are difficult to prove.

How about potential employees? A December 2013 study put out by CareerBuilder, titled More Employers Finding Reasons Not to Hire Candidates on Social Media, found that “nearly two in five companies (39 percent) use social networking sites to research job candidates.” Furthermore, the survey discovered that “more than two in five (43 percent) hiring managers who currently research candidates via social media said they have found information that has caused them not to hire a candidate.”

So what can you as an employee or potential employee do to protect your professional image (assuming this is important to you)?  A good rule of thumb would be to assume that what you are posting can be viewed publicly and to stick to what you are comfortable sharing with the world. However, for many, that is far too restrictive and conforming, so you should search out methods of protecting yourself.

From my research, there is no “silver bullet”, but there are some measures you can take. Here are two examples, and you will no doubt be able to find many more:

Protect Yourself from Facebook-Snooping Employers: 5 Tactics

How to Protect Yourself on Social Media

In many ways, these remain uncharted territories, but with increasing use of social media, both professionally and personally, we will no doubt see more legislative and corporate policy changes going forward. However, in spite of legislative protection, this activity can be subtle, undocumented, and undetectable to the employee or job seeker.

The intention of this post is to raise questions and invite research into an area that is bound to affect most of us in some way. Privacy cannot be assumed in this day and age, whether the snooping come from the NSA, marketing analytics, or your current or potential employer. It pays to be careful about what you take out to the curb!

Are you worried that your resume makes you look like a job-hopper? Here’s some good news!

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