10 ways to stay professional on social media (plus, what is

There’s no denying that social networking platforms have created opportunities for leaders to share and gain knowledge. It’s also true that frustrations can lead some people to search for conversational input, guidance, or agreement on social media. Unfortunately, not all online exchanges are positive, and some people slide down the rabbit hole of negativity about their boss, work environment, coworkers, clients, employees, or job.

Topics fueled by anger, frustration, or disillusionment tend to have the most likes or comments. Likewise, there are those who enjoy posting controversial topics along with their points and counterpoints to get attention. All this goes to show that misery loves company.

While we don’t have the same ideal working conditions that we did prepandemic, the question is, “Is it really that bad?” Or has our attitude become one of “cloudy with a forecast of gloom and doom”? When we’re in an emotional headspace, our responses can become heightened. When this happens, we need to practice PBP—pause before posting.  

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Everyone needs to vent, but it’s best to do so offline and with your trusted circle of confidants. You never know who accesses your digital footprint or who is sharing or screenshooting it for use outside of its original platform. We have a digital and professional responsibility to ensure the content, tone, and message of our posts and replies always depict us as a leader and not a malcontent. Without this, it’s easy to misinterpret a message. Your digital words and actions have a bigger impact than you think.

How to uphold your digital responsibility

Self-police your posts. Remember that you’re representing your employer, company, and yourself as a leader. This means being conscious about what and what not to post. Social media is a powerful tool, but one post, even when deleted, can undercut your message and credibility. Not everyone shares your viewpoints. To maintain your professional image, your posts must reflect your best self.

Tame the drama and squash the pessimism. There will be situations when you want to tell your story, lash out, express your frustration, prove a point of hierarchy, or air dirty laundry. This behavior online is completely unacceptable, but even more so for those in leadership roles. We must always portray the highest level of professional decorum.

Show me the digits. There is no point in asking for comparisons to your compensation and benefit packages. Depending on where you’re located and your role and responsibilities, there will always be some difference among those in leadership roles. While this does happen, your colleagues could find this in poor taste professionally.

Be helpful, not a hindrance. If you’re not sure how to respond, it’s best not to respond at all. Your posts and replies should always offer sound advice or solutions, not anything that would further hinder someone’s ability to find resources, information, or guidance.

Don’t whine with wine. Careers have ended abruptly after someone posted while under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

Think about employee-related matters and information. Employers and managers have access to a significant amount of information about employees, from employment applications, resumés, benefits forms, performance evaluations, salary, disciplinary documentation, contact information, and even medical records. One reason the human resources department exists is to maintain records about employment matters. Even without a dedicated HR manager, employment matters should be confidential to avoid legal repercussions.

Consider revenue streams. Most social media platforms have privacy settings. Even with those in place, the world can be exceedingly small. Never mock your clients, referrals, employers, or patients, even if you feel you’re in the right, because they are your source of income.

Avoid controversy. Even with the best of intentions, discussions that involve religion, politics, gender equality, and similar topics can trigger unwanted attention. If you’re enthusiastic about bringing awareness, be cautious and delicate with your words so that they don’t come back to bite you.

Watch for breach of confidentiality. Most employers have specific policies that prohibit the type of information you can share, such as confidential client matters, protected health information, internal communications, or proprietary information. These policies may also monitor what employees can speak about on behalf of the employer to avoid sharing misleading, inaccurate, or confidential information. 

Don’t post inappropriate comments. Alarm bells should be going off because it’s a problem if the comments that are offensive or inappropriate about your boss, employee, colleague, coworker, patients, or competitors go viral. This will automatically tarnish your image and could lead to legal issues.

As humans, we sometimes need to express our frustrations, and venting can be vital for our mental health. Hold team meetings and one-on-one discussions to talk about issues directly in a professional manner. Using tips such as those in the article “Effective ways leaders can deal with frustration in the workplace” can be helpful in maintaining a professional office.

When interacting on social platforms, be mindful of your digital responsibility to protect your image and reputation, be nonjudgmental, and act responsibly when posting or commenting so as to depict absolute professionalism. And please remember PBP—pause before posting!