Exercise Caution When Using Social Media

who should we hire you

Have you ever considered the effect what you say and do with social media has on the success of your business?

Before you recklessly upload an album full of snapshots from the party last Friday night to cyberspace –before you submit your latest 140-character bit of cheeky wit or wisdom to the world, will you stop to think of the consequences?

According to an infographic from CareerEnlightenment.com, 79% of hiring managers and job recruiters review online information about job applicants before making a hiring decision. Of those, 70% said that they have rejected candidates based on information that they found online. That means there’s an incredibly high likelihood that your prospective employer will be doing a sort of amateur background check on you; essentially, they will look for a reason to not hire you.

In June, the Federal Trade Commission gave its blessing to background check companies that screen job applicants based on their use of social media. This means that the job application process is no longer a simple paper application and personal interview. Instead, a search of what you’ve said or posted online has become standard. “We store records for up to 7 years as long as those records haven’t been disputed,” says Social Intelligence COO Geoffrey Andrews.

So what should you avoid posting online, to the land of no take backs and few apologies? Here are some dos and don’ts:

Don’t bad mouth your current or former employer, your co-workers, or your clients.
This could be the most important kind of post to avoid. Who wants to hire someone who is liable to publicly complain about them later? Who wants to work with such a person? Slandering anyone in the business world can be extremely damaging to your chances of landing a job or acquiring a new client. This seems like the most obvious point I could make, which is why I find it truly amazing how often I see disparaging remarks of this nature from my Facebook friends. Some have posted such comments very regularly over extended periods of time about their current employers. I can only hope that my friends have been extremely careful about regulating who can see their posts, but even that is not enough to guard that their boss will not somehow be made aware of them. The tech-savvy have innumerable ways of getting around your privacy settings.

Don’t be negative.
Instead of constantly droning on about your problems–in the workplace, at home, or otherwise–focus on the positive aspects of your life and the progress your business is making. It’s painful to write this terrible cliché, but you should probably heed your mother’s timeless advice; if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Chronic complainers are overwhelming to their coworkers and can seriously damage the atmosphere of a workplace and the quality of customer service. From the perspective of a job applicant, if you’re equally qualified for a position along with any number of candidates, a reputation as a whiner will quickly land your résumé in the trash. Negative people have fewer followers online, and fewer friends in real life. Businesses regularly gauge their interests in working with other companies based on the personal reputations of their contacts within that company.

Don’t be overly argumentative.
We get it. You’re smart. It’s okay to be smart. It’s not okay to shove your intelligence (or arrogance, depending on your perspective) in everyone’s collective face. Steer clear of controversy for the sake of being controversial. If you feel the need to defend your opinions to someone, be respectful about it, or preferably, do it face-to-face. Hiding behind the protective barrier that is the internet is not cool.

Do keep it G-rated.
First of all, avoid abusive language at all costs. Stay away from crude jokes and curse words no matter the context. This is your personal page, but it reflects your business. In the past, some of my friend’s Facebook profiles have read like a public bathroom stall. Those “friends” have been since removed from my list. To me, and to most in the business world, raunchy language significantly reduces credibility. In addition, employers and customers alike will distance themselves from you if they find any hint of racism or sexism, even if your comments are meant humorously or sarcastically. Beyond how such words impact your reputation, job recruiters undoubtedly will fear legal repercussions should your online ignorance translate to the workplace. This also applies to pictures. Don’t post anything provocative, or any content that suggests drinking or drug use.

Do spell check.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. You’re not in fourth grade. Watch your spelling and grammar if you want people to view you as an able, intelligent, adult–capable of effectively communicating in the workplace.

CareerBuilder.com published the results of a very interesting survey back in 2009. Undoubtedly, the percentages they found are all more extreme two years later. Their survey reported that 35% of employers found content on social networking sites that caused them not to hire a candidate. Reportedly, 53% of those candidates posted provocative or inappropriate photographs or information, 43% posted content about them drinking or using drugs, 35% bad-mouthed their previous employer, co-workers or clients, 29% showed poor communication skills, 26% made discriminatory comments, 24% lied about qualifications, and 20% shared confidential information from a previous employer.

All this is not limited to job applicants, however. As a business owner or executive, your social media footprint is also accessible to potential customers and partners. If you’re like most, its time to rethink your approach to social media.

And by the way, I don’t want to work with you if your entire Facebook wall is plagued by Bejeweled Blitz high scores and incessant Farmville updates.

How has a negative social media contact affected your buying decision?