Do you know that your social media presence can get you fired?

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We all have at least one friend that seems to have no self-control when sharing their life on the social media platforms, either posting stuff that is too private, too compulsive, too positive or stuff that simply just doesn’t add up with the person we know they are. You might laugh at their online image, find it annoying or boring and you might even mute them, but have you ever really considered the consequences your online presence can have on your own relationships?

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In Denmark we have a problem. More and more people are getting fired or losing connections and friendships as a result of their online presence.

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Last summer I became a Master of Arts in Communication Studies with a master thesis on the effects your social media presence could have on your “offline” relationships. My goal with the thesis was to explore if the nature of our interpersonal communication and “real life” interactions was undergoing any major changes do to the social media integration of our “personal” self and our “professional” self.

My background for the study was that more and more companies are using social media, like Facebook, as a substitute for a company intranet. Furthermore they are mixing private life with professional life, asking their employees to be brand advocates through their personal social media accounts. But nobody seemed to care about the consequences this could have for the employees.

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Let me start by saying that I think it is really important to have employees as brand advocates, but I also find that this isn’t something you can simply command, it has to come from the employees wanting it due to the company culture as well as their pride and personal interest in relation to their job.

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Are people really getting fired as a result of their social media posts?

Yes. And this especially regards Facebook, but could of course be any other social media as well. Last month two Danish unions released a new study showing an increase in work-related conflicts and layoffs as a result of personal Facebook updates, which is the same conclusion I arrived at in my master thesis last summer.

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You probably know what you are doing on the different social media platforms, so why should you care?

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Well this tendency also has an effect on both you and the brand you represent. As the social networks one by one decrease the companies reach, the brands really need their representatives including employees to take part in the social conversation as well. And make no mistake, it doesn’t matter if you type in “views are my own” (or something similar) in the end you always represent the brand you are working for.

And this is where it gets tricky. Not only did my research show that a lot of people feel pressured into being online friends with their bosses, it also showed that people restricted themselves immensely regarding what they communicated online and how they communicate online. This self-censorship in communication was both to avoid any problems but also as a part of their personal branding strategy.

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This could of course be considered a good thing, but what my research also showed was that when people start acting like companies on their personal profiles, being super positive or not having any opinions on stuff that matters but just sending out promotional posts, even self-promotional, their friends no longer took them seriously. Actually a lot of my respondents (I had 500+) said that they had come to dislike and even unfriend their former close friends because of their online attitudes. So while you as a person risk your friendships or job (worst case scenario), and companies an overall reduction in ’value’ measured by ’reputation’. After all what good will employees do as brand advocates if they are just seen as the prolonged and impersonal arm of the brand by their friends? Besides who would want employees with no personalities?

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Who should define the privacy boundaries?

Maybe you too have noticed that your social media feeds are getting more boring and impersonal day by day. Well I sure have. Even though the private settings keep getting better, people are worried about their personal brand, as of course they should be. So what can we do about this and do we need to do anything?

To be honest I haven’t got a clue. The key to this, I think, is balance. But balance is hard to come by when you are feeling that you are being watched by your boss. What do you think? Do you have a personal branding strategy? And do you consider the pros and cons when you accept a friend request from your boss? And if you are a boss, are your employees wellbeing at top of mind when you friend them on the social media platforms and would you consider sacking somebody for expressing an opinion that is not aligned with the company’s values?

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A year ago, based on my research leading up to the writing of my master thesis, I predicted that Facebook would have to change their privacy policies and feed algorithms to be able to stay relevant to their users and that the users of the network would increasingly use Facebook more as a professional network because of the transparency relating to it. And although I think that Facebook has made some great changes from a personal perspective (I know that a lot of companies will disagree) in order to remain a social network, it leaves me wondering: Should we really leave it up to the social media platforms to define the boundaries of privacy or should it be something we discuss actively?

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I will leave this open for debate and just finish off by giving you my three best tips on how to balance your “private” self and your “professional” self on social media. With social media our backstage has become the front stage and we have all become a part of a global village, so remember to:

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  • Check your private settings – Are you giving out more information than you intend to?
  • Be yourself – Everybody can spot a faker, if not immediately, then eventually?
  • Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t tell your boss to his/her face.

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edited by @marksalke

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