I have two main forms of social media – Facebook and LinkedIn. Plus wechat, but my time in a China in the near future should be much more limited so I probably will not use it as much in the future. I link my blog entries in all three, two automatically and wechat via manual posting. Because I link my blog to LinkedIn, I try and keep it as professionally appropriate as I think is needed. That does not mean that I am afraid to talk about my hobbies and interests there, but I do limit political and social commentary posts.
It is becoming more and more common for future employers to check your social media. I am not incredibly fond of that, but I understand the reasoning. I also am looking for a new job now, so public image and presentation are important as I want a senior and very responsible position. That means that even if there is a temptation to more broadly broadcast my personal views, I am careful.
It started out with the very first blog I wrote in this site, where I said that I would avoid commenting on China. My reason there is not some abstract self-interest where bashing your hosts is bad manners and some countries can take it even more seriously and put your visa at risk. It isn’t even that solar projects can take a lot of government cooperation and talking badly about the country you want to do business in is bad for business. The reason is simple, I honestly feel that I do not understand the country enough to make a post that is informed. I can talk with confidence about doing business in many countries. I can talk about what happens with standard business processes as you cross country boundaries. I think that if I am going to write something here that my audience is going to spend the time to read, I need to offer something that is relevant and useful. As my mandarin is limited and I have only really spent time in the greater Shanghai and Shenzhen areas, I do not think I can effectively comment on the country.
The same thing applies to many subjects that I see other people discussing online. I see so many obviously misinformed comments on political, legal and business topics that I wonder why the people writing them can say it. Your professional reputation and your reputation with your friends is influenced and built by what you say, and posting online means it lasts forever. Off the cuff and obviously wrong statements cannot help.
One common error is see is some fact or story repeated to make some sort of point. You see the same picture or text over and over and you know it is wrong. A recent example for me was about a tip that Bill Gates and his daughter left where the daughter left a big tip and Bill left a small one with the punchline that she is the daughter of a very rich man but he is the son of a woodcutter. Anyone who cares about Bill Gates other than he founded and was CEO of Microsoft knows that his father was reasonably well off and that he was not a woodcutter. I see memes and stories like that continuously and 1 minute fact checking via Google or snopes.com would reveal the problem. Before I make such a post, I always check. You want to present yourself as a credible source of information.
Another issue is see is the posting about drug use or other illegal activities. I have it easier as I do not use drugs (without getting into the debate of alcohol and coffee and such which obviously can be considered to be drugs and I do drink them), but I am puzzled at to why anyone would want to advertise illegal activities that they do, especially on professional media like LinkedIn. The pot industry is starting to become legal in some states, and I can see the rationale why people in the industry would advertise it, but I see little upside otherwise and lots of potential downside. This only increases as you move up the ranks.
I made the choice a long time ago to not make my Facebook account my public face, especially for professional matters. So my actual Facebook friend list is small and almost all are actual friends or at least people that share an interest with me that I know personally. When I do want to post on a personal view, I do not post a blog entry, I post a Facebook entry. Now these can be shared by friends on my Facebook and some have super-wide distribution, so it does get broadcast, but it still is a more personal distribution method. I do not have particularly radical political or religious views and my moral center is certainly firmly in suburban middle class, so there is not much danger in even those views being spread, but I would not post them on LinkedIn or here as I automatically link posts in my blog to other social media and because this is a public and freely available site.
Even on Facebook, I think a little before I post something. An example is a post of a picture of a martini glass or a wine glass. I like martinis and I like wine with a meal and I will post a picture to go with a check-in when I go out. Some writers recommend keeping your social media media completely clean of any sign you drink at all and any sign that you go out. To take it to that extreme seems weird to me and I am not sure I would want to work somewhere that takes exception to employees having a normal social life. However, posting odes to ISIS and discussing overthrowing the government is something that would make me pause in a hiring decision. I would think these sorts of things are self obvious not to post, but people do it anyways.
Political views are always a hard area to discuss. Suppression of political views is counter to the spirit of democracy and I hesitate to argue that anyone should not express their views there. It is always a delicate balance, but even CEOs of large companies campaign for specific parties and candidates. I would say be moderate and reasonable in expression of political views and unless appropriate, keep them out of your business public face. The USA is split about 50/50 in political party support and you always risk alienating potential customers when you take a political stance. I would say for any business related so local media, you should treat it like a social gathering where you do not know the people and where normal etiquette dictates moderating discussions on politics as it is not socially acceptable because of the potential conflict it could cause. In your personal social media, I would only suggest that you take a careful look at what you are posting and make sure it reflects your views in a way that you intend to be public. A good rant may make you feel better, but if you consider yourself an advocate of a party or candidate, does it reflect well on them?
Religious views are similar. The social party rule applies. Some people are deeply religious and their faith is very important to them. I think expression of the views should be moderate in business settings as on average most people do not consider it an appropriate place to discuss religion. Personal social media should just be subject to the test before you post of does this post serve my God well and is it in line with His/Her teachings? If you really think yes, then you should feel secure in posting it.
Both politics and religion are very hard subjects. You can find many people saying not to post about it at all, even in your personal social media and I certainly see lots of scolding in social media when people bring it up. Our society will be a sad and bland one if we suppress and self edit such important things. As long as you feel your post is knowledgeable and in good spirit, I would not recommend not posting it. I would suggest that you should consider a private message versus a public posting and if that is more appropriate, but express your views if it is what you feel you must do, even if in public.
Sexist, racist, or overly sexual and graphic posts always will reflect badly on you. There certainly is room for people to make a living posting about these types of subjects, but an external blog site like this is probably the best place to talk about it, especially for business social media where it may not be appropriate at all in pretty much any circumstances. My reasoning is simple, readers need to make a choice and click a link to go read what you wrote and at that point the reader needs to take some responsibility. I think that sexism and racism belongs nowhere, but some people find it even in posts where you do not intend it. I try and write with gender neutral pronouns and business titles, but I slip up every once and a while.
Profile pictures should be appropriate in that they make you look good but are not overly sexualized. I guess if you are a lingerie or bathing suit model for a living or sell those products as your main business, then you can use different types of pictures in your business posts, but in general a vacation picture in a tight speedo is not the best way to advertise yourself for a CFO job. I personally hold that dumb comments addressed at “pretty” or “handsome” profile pictures are the fault of the people making them, not the account owner who puts up the profile picture and those responses are an example of bad decisions by the poster.
The world certainly is more complicated now because of social media and the global outreach it has, but the rules you should follow are really not that much different than the days before social media. Getting drunk at an office party and slurring your speech while kicking a puppy on stage was bad news before social media and it is still bad news. Do a little self editing before such a post is made.
I also see a potential backlash against increasingly invasive practices in screening candidates. If something is actually public already, then there may not be much right to complain, but requests that company representatives be added as “friends” or that private social media accounts be opened up is more than what I think is fair. And social media posts when you were 18 probably are not a good reflection of you at 40, so I see some small sense in the “right to be forgotten” laws that exist in Europe.