Best Practice

Online Privacy: You Can Run but You Can’t Hide

In today’s world, any action or any word said can be made very public in a short amount of time. The impact of social media on personal and corporate brands has increased astronomically in recent years, and posts have sometimes been very damaging for individuals and companies. It’s become such an important part of our culture that many organizations today screen social media before making a hiring decision on an applicant.

I was involved with a situation of hiring a senior individual in Mexico, and an internal employee was asked whether he knew this potential hire. The individual said no, but it was discovered on a social outlet that they had attended many gatherings together. The employee is no longer with us, and the potential employee was not hired.

How do we begin to know the full breadth and visibility these social network platforms reveal about individuals, and how do we understand the potential impact of this public access to personal information? Whether you’re acting as a role model for your employees, your peers or your children, you need to be prepared to discuss what is posted on social media when the topic is brought to your attention. Some of us did not grow up with so much information at our fingertips, so let me recommend a few pointers.

Educate yourself on what is out there about you in the public domain. Any document that is registered with the government is public record, meaning it is open to anyone who wants to look into your background. For example, if you purchase a home and have two names on the deed, both names will show up as public record. The price you pay for your home is public, even if you pay cash, because the sale and the tax document create public listings. Your business filing with the state is public record, along with the principals in the company and the year your company was formed.

Know and monitor the social outlets your family members and friends use. With the tap of a cell phone, a photo can be posted in seconds. Is it the kind of picture you want your professional contacts to see? After my long weekend run, I sometimes join a group of local runners. They are all on Facebook, and they know I do not want to be posted on social media. They respect my privacy and know I am not part of a group photo, unless it is for a charity. Make your views known on posting when it comes to family and friends.

Know your company’s policy when it comes to social media. Organizations have varied policies. LinkedIn is the most acceptable form of social media for companies that are handling business communications in this space, but Instagram and Twitter have become more accepted. Anything you post about your organization typically shows up under your personal profile, so how are you projecting your professional image? Additionally, some organizations require that certain types of posts go through a marketing or legal team to be sure they are not communicating the wrong message or even something the company is not allowed to share.

Stay away from controversial topics in public and postings. Whether it’s politics, religion, guns or other topics that are subjects of hot debate in today’s world, sometimes differences of opinion can lead to people never speaking to one another again. Airing opinions about them in social media can even lead to people being removed from a job. When these topics come up online or in person, remove yourself from these conversations.

If you cannot write, post or say something that you are not willing to share with your grandparents, then do not write, post or say it. This is my favorite tip because I received this advice early in my career. I know some feel you need to be yourself and people should accept you for what you are and what you do, even if they are your grandparents. But if you’re a leader and a role model, you have an image to uphold.

Let’s think about today’s approach to communication. There are laws when it comes to television and radio production. In the U.S., broadcasting falls under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which monitors television and radio programming to make sure the law is not broken when it comes to obscene, indecent and profane content. If broadcast media is held to such a high standard, why can’t we hold ourselves to that same standard in person and on social media?

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About the author

Romaine Seguin

Romaine Seguin is president of UPS Global Freight Forwarding, based in Atlanta. She can be reached at rseguin@ups.com.

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