Social media has led to a merging of our personal and professional lives. Potential employers regularly search the internet for the social media profiles of applicants, looking for red flags and reasons not to hire them. (In these cases, having a common name like John Smith and Jose Garcia is golden.) Social media and corporate IT have become ever more entwined.
Continual visits to social networking sites take away from productive time at work. However, a general block of social networking sites for all employees create problems in an era when Human Resources regularly uses social networking sites to find job candidates, research the backgrounds of applicants and check up on current employees. Marketing may need exceptions to the company’s website blacklist so that they can post advertisements and recruiting videos to sites like Youtube.
A habit of posting what you are working on at work can lead to leaks. Discussions of customer visits and negotiations can violate confidentiality agreements or reveal "insider information" that ruin business deals. Corporate IT and IT security now mandates routine searches for keywords related to company products, trade secrets and inside information.
Selfie was picked as the 2013 word of the year. If we take selfies everywhere, why not at work? Taking pictures in the workplace could reveal sensitive equipment like prototypes or site locations that need to stay secret, especially for those working for defense contractors. Soldiers have gotten into trouble for taking pictures of themselves and uploading them online, revealing the location of their platoon via the GPS location information embedded in the image.
The line between personal and professional has blurred with the rise of social media. The same personal webpage or social media profile that links you to coworkers also reveals your hobbies, political views and personal friends. One solution is to maintain a personal profile on one network and a business profile on another. Then political discussions and sharing of baby photos doesn't degrade your professional profile. Another option, albeit harder, is to maintain a professional page for personal interactions. The fact remains that personal websites and social media pages provide a permanent record of personal behavior that employers past, present and future can and will use against you.
Social media addiction can impact your professional as well as your personal life. Being the first to comment on an article or read and response to an update makes you feel as if you are connected to your friends, but it does not mean you have a deep, intimate connection. Being first to respond or react does not make the commentary more meaningful. However, feeling driven to stay "connected" online can lead to continual disruptions to the work day. And unlike the historic methods of goofing off at work like chatting around the water cooler, employers can log online activities. Furthermore, website postings are often time stamped. Employees connecting to social media sites at work or on company time create their own proof of wasted time on company time.
Once management suspects a problem, finding proof for termination of the employee is not difficult. This is separate from the professional risk that comes from pranking other employees to post "funny" pictures on the internet or criticizing the company online, both of which can result in termination regardless of when the actions occurred or the lack of a history of doing so.
Complaining about your employer online can run afoul of corporate policy and be sufficient reason to terminate someone, depending on the complaints and information revealed. Even if no laws were broken, the social media transcripts become the digital equivalent of a school’s permanent record – the grades that measure our performance and haunt our later endeavors for the rest of our working lives.