In today's increasingly hyper-connected world where anyone can easily post photos, videos, and other personal information about themselves online for everyone to see, it's becoming more and more important to be smart about exactly what and how much to post online. After all, what you put up in cyberspace today (such as those raucous pictures of last year's Christmas party) may come back to haunt you later on.
There is no denying that the Internet (and especially online social media such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter) has brought about great change in people's behavior—many of them for the better. These tools have allowed easier information sharing, greater collaboration, and the fostering of communities like never before. However, these tools also have a darker side, and if not used properly they can be a source of problems for you or your organization later on.
One problem is how these media can potentially misrepresent you or your organization. Online, the line between the personal and the professional can get blurry, and the moment you do something inappropriate, even during your personal or private time, whether right or wrong, it can affect how you are perceived. It's becoming more common to screen the personal profiles of job applicants or potential business partners, and an inappropriate picture or even a little tweet can leave a damaging mark on your reputation.
Engaging in inappropriate behavior even behind the cover of anonymity can also be problematic. Examples include commenting in blogs or forums where you obviously have a vested interest. There are countless stories of unscrupulous people or businesses that clearly mislead others by posting good reviews or endorsements about their business, product, or service, only to have their real identity discovered later on. If you must do this, it's better to be up front and honest—and disclose any vested interest so you won't be judged poorly later on.
If you must express an opinion, weigh carefully how it relates to your work and your career. If you are identified with an organization, be clear about whether you have the authority to speak on its behalf. If you don't, state clearly that you are speaking on your own behalf by providing a disclaimer. This can come in handy later if your employer happens to see your posts online. An example disclaimer might be a statement similar to this: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily represent my employer's position or opinion.
Be sure to also respect the ideas, privacy, and property of others. You would not want to be called a plagiarist or a thief. Online etiquette requires that you provide references, links, or attributions to the ideas or material you use that are not yours. When in doubt, get permission first. It's always better to be safe than sorry.
These are simple guidelines for conducting yourself and your affairs online. To share your own experiences, ideas and thoughts, or just to provide feedback or suggestions, drop us a line – we would love to hear from you!