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How to navigate social media with coworkers

Once upon a time, people saw their coworkers and bosses at the office. Generally unless they made plans to get together outside of work, that was pretty much the end of the story. 

Today, social media makes it extremely easy (too easy, some may say) to connect with people from all areas of our lives, including the professional realm. In some ways, of course, this can be enormously beneficial. After all, we all know someone who got the scoop on a job opening because a friend of a friend shared it on Facebook. Or maybe you’ve spent enough time browsing your boss’s Instagram account to feel confident chatting her up in the break room about your mutual love of Labrador Retrievers.

However, there are few, if any, hard and fast rules regarding social media in the workplace—unless the company itself has created them. While this can make it difficult to navigate social media with colleagues, we’re here to help. Read on for our tips and general guidelines for handling social media encounters with your colleagues. 

How to Navigate Social Media with Coworkers

Applying best practices

There are a few widely accepted best practices, but how they apply to you may vary based on three things: your industry or company, your position at work, and your own personal preferences.

Your industry or company

Some types of businesses are far more likely to encourage, expect, or even require social media usage and connections than others—for example, if you work in marketing and need to be on Facebook to manage your organization’s page as part of your work duties.

The makeup of your company may also influence expectations. While more than seven in 10 professionals say it’s appropriate to connect with colleagues on Facebook, that positive attitude toward social media connection is more likely to come from male colleagues between the ages of 18 and 34 than from their counterparts, according to a poll by staffing firm OfficeTeam. 

Some businesses have very strict social media policies, and if that’s the case, you’d best read up and follow these policies closely or risk accidentally committing a fireable offense. If your company doesn’t require social media usage and connections and doesn’t have a clear policy, though, consider your position at work.

Your position at work

One popular usage guideline is that bosses should not be the ones sending friend or follow requests. If an employee with a position below you sends a request, then it comes down to your personal preference. But when an employee receives a request from someone who has the power to impact their career, it may create an uncomfortable situation where the employee worries that turning down a request will have workplace repercussions.

While it may be technically acceptable for you to friend or follow a colleague or boss, it’s smart to think it through before you tap send on that request. Not only does it give the people you see at the office every day a peek into your life, but it also means you’ll learn more about them. Once you see a colleague post an unsavory Tweet or share a ridiculous conspiracy theory, you can’t unsee it—but you still have to see them at work.

Your personal preference

Unless your company has a policy regarding social media, how you use it with regard to your coworkers is up to you. And it’s worth thinking through your approach, especially if you’re starting a new job or just joined a social media platform. It’s typically easier to keep your personal and professional lives separate from the start rather than find a way to backtrack after you’ve become social media friends with your entire office. If you find coworkers want to connect with you on social, be judicious about how you make that connection and use the following tips.

Making friends and managing privacy

Maybe you genuinely like your colleagues and would like to get to know them better via social media, or perhaps you’re receiving a lot of friend requests from professional contacts and feel like you need to respond in some way. Either way, here are a few tips to help you navigate this tricky space and avoid common social media blunders.

Accept and reject thoughtfully

You don’t have to accept (or reject) every request or follow, but if you accept one, remember that anything you’ve posted in the past is now fair game (unless you adjust your privacy settings). If you opt to reject a friend request from a colleague, it may be wise to let them know you’ve done so and explain that you only use that particular platform for family and friends, or that you have chosen not to connect with current coworkers on social media. 

Consider the platform

Just because you don’t want to connect on one network doesn’t mean you need to avoid colleagues on every social media platform, especially if you approach the various networks differently. For example, if you tend to use Twitter to share thoughts and articles related to your industry, keeping a public profile and following your coworkers back may be an obvious or even strategic move. But if your Instagram feed is filled with political posts, perhaps you should maintain some professional privacy there—unless politics is part of your job, of course. And when in doubt, you can always refer colleagues to LinkedIn and save your other social networks for personal, non-professional relationships.

Post with care

It’s not only what you post, but also when you post it that matters when you’re connected with colleagues. For example, there’s probably nothing wrong with posting a picture of you and your family at a theme park—unless you’re posting it on a day when you’ve called in sick and it isn’t a throwback. Other no-nos include complaining about work (or your coworkers!), putting out feelers for a new job, or sharing personal information you’d be uncomfortable discussing with a colleague at the water cooler.

Maintain your privacy

It’s possible to connect with your colleagues on social media without letting them see much of anything. 

  • On Facebook, you can put add specific people to your Restricted list, which means they won’t be able to see any posts shared to your friends. They’ll only see posts if they are public or if they’re tagged in it. 
  • You can set your account to private on Twitter and Instagram, which means you can accept or reject follow requests. Only your followers can see what you post. 
  • You don’t have to stick to just one account bearing your name and picture. You have the option to create a private account that you can reserve for close friends and family in addition to a public account.

The main thing to remember is that every company has a different approach to social media. Plus, since social media is relatively new and ever-changing, it’s likely that policies will evolve, too. If you have concerns about connecting with colleagues on social, take steps to maintain your privacy and always think before you post. With these steps in mind, you should have no trouble navigating these murky online waters.

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