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Your personal social media posts: are they really personal?

A Vermont State Police trooper was recently forced to resign as a result of comments he posted to his personal Facebook page.

Could this happen to you or a member of your staff?

The story in Vermont

An unidentified concerned citizen notified the Vermont State Police about the trooper’s Facebook posts, according to the Rutland Herald, and the agency proceeded to investigate. A State Police statement indicates internal affairs officers found many of the posts were “egregious” and “rose to a level of extreme concern.”

Police said the posts violated the social media policy of the State Police and its code of conduct, according to the Rutland Herald.

The trooper, who had been on the job for 16 years, reportedly had an otherwise spotless record.

The Facebook posts, which spanned a lengthy period of time, included political and religious comments. Although the trooper was sharing his personal views, the comments had the potential to be interpreted as biased or prejudicial.

What’s on your wall

Now boasting more than 936 million daily active users, Facebook has become more than a platform for information sharing. It’s a hangout where the conversation never ends. And it’s a place where few topics appear to be off limits.

Enraged about an item in the news? Post the article to Facebook and vent. Have a strong opinion about a politician? Tear him or her apart on Facebook. What’s the harm?

All it takes is for one “concerned citizen” to read your questionable posts and you could find your comments under scrutiny—and your job or job search in jeopardy.

Think your posts are clean?

Rep’nUp, a provider of tools for social media reputation management, shares the following statistics:

  • 53 percent of Facebook users have more than 5 reputation damaging posts
  • 43 percent of Facebook users have more than 10 reputation damaging posts
  • 31 percent of Facebook users have more than 20 reputation damaging posts

Why the lack of attention to boundaries when it comes to social media?

Lior Tal, co-founder of Rep’nUp, says there are a few reasons.

A couple of years ago, Facebook users weren’t aware of the impact their posts might have on their career and posted things that today they would never post.

Still today, Facebook users who are or were in high school and college do not really think about what they do, and career is something they do not think about, Tal says. “During that time apparently they care more about being cool than smart,” he says.

And then there’s the ignorance factor. “There’s a lack of knowledge of what might harm your reputation,” Tal says. “For example, poor communications, slang, grammar and spelling mistakes, controversial issues are all things that users don’t think might harm them but in reality they do.”

A recent study from CareerBuilder, a global leader in human capital solutions, finds these are the top pieces of content that turn off employers:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs – 46 percent
  • Information about candidate drinking or using drugs – 40 percent
  • Candidate bad-mouthed previous company or fellow employee – 34 percent
  • Poor communication skills – 30 percent
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc. – 29 percent

Protecting your posts

So, why not just protect your posts by using privacy settings. This way, only your friends can see what you’ve shared, right?

This doesn’t always work.

Tal explains: “Technically, even if you post things with private settings, one of your friends can, intentionally or not, turn this into a public post that everyone can see.”

Moreover, complete privacy isn’t necessarily good for your reputation. “Having all your activity in private mode is also bad because it raises suspicious that you have things to hide,” Tal says.

Trying to beat the system isn’t advisable, either.

“Some people think that they’ll change their account name before an interview so they cannot be found on social media. That doesn’t really work,” Tal says. “Employers today expect candidates to have at least one social media account. Someone said that the second worse thing after having a bad social media reputation is not having any reputation at all.”

And avoiding social media altogether creates the same obstacle.

The CareerBuilder survey confirms that it is indeed an obstacle. More than one-third of employers (35 percent) say they are less likely to interview a job candidate if they are unable to find information about that person online.

Managing your reputation

“It is much better to have a social media account and manage it well,” Tal says. “Awareness is all that is needed.”

To this end, using a service like Rep’nUp can help you become aware of what you do.

Other than that, Tal recommends that you:

  • Be aware of what you post
  • Consider what to post privately and what to post in public
  • Make sure your settings are such that your tagging (by others) requires your approval

This advice shouldn’t be taken lightly. As the situation in Vermont shows, social media posts can derail your career.

Editor’s picks:

4 big social media mistakes your practice must avoid

How to use social media to market your practice

Your office’s social media policy: dangerous if not done right









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