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5 ways social media could hurt your HR career

4 min read


We love social media. It keeps us in touch with our friends in expected ways (photos of our cats and vacations, reports of our moods and who we just met for drinks). And unexpected ways. (I was really sick this weekend. But I wasn’t lonely in my misery. I posted my progress on Facebook as the hours slowly and surreally unspooled.  My friends around the world kept me company.)

But as sick as I was, I also watched what I said. I recognize that what I post online, even in personal contexts, could have a direct impact on my career. So while I’m always honest, I’m also as discreet as I possibly can be.  I suppose we’re all public figures now, thanks to social media. But, judging from the messages I see from my friends in HR, I often wonder if you guys get just how your social media activity might be hurting your HR careers in the long run.

You might think you’re just posting to your peeps, but you’re not. Even on Facebook, you start unwittingly collecting a motley crew of people who are reading you without your knowledge — including the employees in your company. Or your boss. Or a headhunter. We all know to keep our clothes on on Facebook and refrain from mentioning illegal substances and activities. But that’s not enough when you’re in HR.

So I thought I’d draw up this checklist for you to keep in mind as you tweet your heart out.

  • No whining. I have a couple of HR friends in my Facebook circle who are always complaining about their jobs.  Ugh. It’s Monday. TGIF.  If you’re in HR, one of the most powerful things you can do is set the tone for enthusiasm in the workplace.  How effective will you be if your people know you don’t want to be at work any more than they do?
  • No gossiping. You know not to talk about your employees in the workplace. What makes online any different? Maybe it feels good to vent (yes, it does), and maybe you think you’ve hidden the person’s identity (no, you haven’t).
  • No talking about openings, closings, shifts in business direction. The slightest thing you say about a meeting with the C-suite or a site selector could send your staff into wild speculation.
  • No discussing religion or politics, unless you’re willing to stand by your beliefs even if it means the end of your on-the-job effectiveness. As an HR pro, you draw much of your effectiveness by creating an atmosphere in which everyone feels they belong, and  very little is as divisive these days as politics.  How can you provide essential guidance to your workplace constituents when they secretly loathe you because of your stance on health care, immigration or climate warming?
  • No vulgarity. There’s one HR blogger who is smart and entertaining. And she can be revolting in the vivid ways she expresses her political outrage. It started out as a refreshing, surprising change of voice in the HR blogosphere, which can be pretty bland. But some people are really uncomfortable with her style, and have stopped following her — which means her valuable messages and insights are being lost.

I don’t want you to be phony — and a little edge now and then is great for seasoning. But when you keep in mind that your social media voice is becoming an increasingly important element of your professional and personal brand, why not put your best foot forward?  The long-term results may give you even more good news to share online.

Martha Finney, president and CEO of Engagement Journeys, helps companies build authentically engaging workplace cultures.  She is the author of more than 15 books, including “The Truth About Getting the Best From People.”

Image credit, MikLav, via Shutterstock