DON’T BE STUPID – 7 Social Media Guidelines

6 07 2009

For a mid-50 year old, I’ve been a pretty early adopter of communications technology. I used computers in 1969; owned my own computer in 1985, had email shortly after and a website since 1995. I most definitely am not as advanced as many of the people I follow on Twitter, but they’re the cutting edge. I’m still just an early adopter.

Yet despite all the changes in media, there are a few rules of social and business conduct that hearken back to the days of print and telephone and still make sense. Or rather, in the words of Douglas MacMillan, columnist for BusinessWeek, “Don’t be Stupid”.

In his May 8, 2009 column, MacMillan told the story of an advertising agency executive whose client learned that they were wooing one of his competitors – via a Twitter post by one of the agency’s own employees.

There are the numerous Facebook pictures of young adults who don’t take down the beer pong pictures before applying for a job. In fact, I just noticed a student affairs professional who is listed as a “Fan of Beer Pong” on Facebook.

Now that summer is here, there are numerous status updates on Facebook and Twitter of employees who proudly indicate that they’re counting the minutes to quitting time or planning on being sick the next day so they can get to the beach.

Why am I writing this in a blog about nonprofits? Because the basic, overall guidelines remain the same for every individual and for every enterprise: Think Before You Communicate!

In a future post, I’ll invite a specialist to write about how to guide an employee who uses digital media on behalf of the organization. But for everyone else, here are some social media guidelines.

Rule #1 is for you – the employer, the manager, the boss. Acknowledge that your employees will be on digital media. There’s no getting around it. You wouldn’t have been able to keep them from having a radio, a television, a cell phone, or a computer; you can’t keep them from continuing to engage in the next technology.

The next 6 rules are for sharing with your staff:

1 –  Keep organization secrets secret. Just as you shouldn’t sit down at a bar and talk to a reporter about an internal mishap or the board member who is totally overbearing, you can’t broadcast anything like that in the media. Your donors and board members are everywhere, and so are potential new funders. They’ll think twice about doing business with you if they don’t think you can keep things confidential.

2 –  Don’t bash the competition. If you identify your employer ANYWHERE, or the organization is even just known by anyone, you are seen as representing that organization even on your own time. Bashing another agency invites bashing right back and is just plain rude. It also gets tiresome for the readers, and raises questions among donors about your professionalism.

3 –  Don’t grumble about your boss. Again, if you identify your employer ANYWHERE, you are seen as representing that organization even on your own time. If the employees are seen as unhappy, your potential clients, donors and goodwill ambassadors may have second thoughts about doing business with you.

4 –  Don’t be an obvious clockwatcher. I wonder about the wisdom of individuals who send tweets like ‘only 2 hours to go’. Either you don’t really doesn’t care that your employer might see this clockwatching, or you are demonstrating contempt for a boss who will never see it. Either way, it’s not a good image for your organization.

5 –  Keep it clean. Yes, I know this is a personal account. But I can’t stress this enough. If you identify your employer ANYWHERE, you are seen as representing that organization. You wouldn’t want to see your child’s elementary school teacher standing outside a bar using foul language every other word. You may be on your own time, but it sure doesn’t reflect well on you, and ultimately on the school system.

6 –  If you’re not sure, ask! Sometimes it’s good to post new insights in your field, demonstrating the expertise of your organization. But occasionally, those insights might be proprietary. If you’re not sure, find out whom to ask for guidance.

And overriding all of the above is a single thought to keep in mind: Assume your mom, your boss, your friends, your relations, your future friends and relations, and your future bosses are all reading it.

The old rules used to be, “don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to your mom,” and “don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.” In this time of instant access to the writings of almost anyone, what you write today can affect your future.

Don’t be Stupid! Thanks for the reminder, Douglas.




7 responses

7 07 2009
Jessica Kupferman

I agree with you about posting comments about counting the minutes until you’re done with work. All that shows is poor work ethic.

In addition to that, keep your messages to friends private, especially on Facebook. Use the privacy settings so you can feel free to speak your mind when commenting on a photo, or someone else’s status, etc. and don’t include those things on your news feed!

Another thought is, be a cheerleader! Praise your company, or things you like outside of work- TV shows, restaurants, show people the things you watch that are absolutely making your day. If you enjoy it, most likely someone else will be checking it out too.

Great post, Susan.

7 07 2009

Thanks, Jess. Your additional tips are perfect. The one caveat is if you’re being a cheerleader, be a cheerleader for things that you think your employer won’t mind — being a fan of Beer Pong, e.g., probably doesn’t cut it. Being a fan of a particular restaurant – not a problem! Unless, of course, you work for PETA, and it’s a carnivore’s heaven 🙂

8 07 2009
Jeff Metz


I am increasingly aware of more and more outrageous posts, updates and fan page selections. I wish everyone would read your blog.

8 07 2009

Thanks! Feel free to pass it on…maybe if more people read and think — and add their own tips — we can build a ‘bible’!

9 07 2009

Honestly, I would drop the “if you identify your employer” language altogether. What if the link between you and your blog / social media page happens later or without your knowledge?

How many times have we read stories about job prospects being denied a job because HR stumbled upon pictures of drunken exploits on their Facebook page? As more and more people arrive on the scene expect more instances of employers googling current staff members or simply stumbling upon their online exploits by accident.

Your last bit of overriding advice was the best position to take. Just assume your boss is reading every word and looking at every picture and video.

10 07 2009

Thanks, Brian. Good point! Especially ‘ assume your boss is reading everything! And so is your mother.

24 08 2009

Here’s what I read about myself on a former employee’s blog (I’m the 60-year old):

“…Who’s responsibility is it to flatten the office environment? The 55-year old executive director? The 60-year-old board president? Or me, the 33-year-old tech savy but-don’t-want-to-come-across-as-uber-knowledgeable?”

I did so enjoy reading about myself that way… And yes, the organization was identified. And like Susan, I’ve been using computers since that blogger was in diapers. By the way, the employee never did make any proposals for flattening the office environment. I guess that person did not want to share all that uber-knowledge…


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