By now, you’ve already read about Justine Sacco and the famous tweet that got her fired last week. What you might not have realized about this incident is that it offers a valuable lesson for you on how (not) to manage social media and your professional life.
(Photo Credit: thecampbells/Flickr)
Justine’s tweet was obviously very out of line, especially since she was a PR professional, and should have known better. In fact, it’s important that every employee realizes that when they disclose where they work on Twitter or any other public social media profile, they are representing their employer every time they go online. Anything you tweet becomes a representation of your employer and the clients you represent — even if there is context or an inside joke behind the tweet that lessens the punch of something that seems offensive. (In Justine’s case, she was actually born in Africa and very clearly understand the continent’s social and political culture. In reality, her tweet was unfortunately less of a joke and almost a matter of fact.)
Another lesson to learn from what happened with Justine Sacco is to not only be aware of what you tweet while at work, but what you say outside of the office. Whenever you start at a new job, it’s critical to take stock of the company culture — not just so you know what to say and how to say it in meetings and in the lunch room, but also how to conduct yourself on Twitter. While making fun of things like AIDS is never acceptable, even things as trivial as sports could drastically affect your reputation at the office. While you may be from Seattle and have a strong passion for the Seahawks, you may want to keep your passion for the 12th man to your private Facebook page if you just relocated to the Bay Area where your new boss — and the rest of your team — are diehard 49er fans. (In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid the “big three” on Twitter: Sports, Politics, and Religion — unless you don’t mind some very heated conversation, and losing massive amounts of followers.)
Finally, be aware of when you’re tweeting. Not only should you always be able to delete what you tweet, (i.e., don’t tweet before getting on a plane to another part of the world), but you should know the rules of using social media at work. While some companies actually encourage employees to tweet from their desks and cubicles to promote the company and industry, others see this as counter-productive and have clear policies banning the use of social media while on the job. Even though you can probably still access Twitter and Facebook on your phone, trust me (and Justine) — using Twitter is not worth getting fired over. If you must, sneak out for a break or take your phone to the bathroom to check your social media activity. Very few people make a living via social media (and you’re probably not one of them). Keep your priorities in check!
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