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Social Media, Politeness, and You

A recent study showed some interesting numbers regarding social media at work. Apparently, 80 percent of workers use social media in some way in the workplace, but only 27 percent use it actively for their jobs. That said, fully 50 percent of people make posts about what’s going on at their company. As the workforce continues to incorporate younger, more technologically savvy employees, these number will only go up. At question is what to do with this information?

In the world of online communications, social media is an interesting phenomenon. Since it’s not going away, it’s probably a good idea to discuss some dos and don’ts. 

Let’s start with a major don’t. Don’t say anything online that you would never say face-to-face. 

With just a cursory glance, it doesn’t take long to find people saying things online that they would never say in a face-to-face conversation. It amazes me the brashness and outright rudeness I see in online comments. 

To compare how this plays out versus how it should play out, let’s use Facebook as an example. If you were on Facebook prior to 2011, what is now called your “page” with a “news feed” used to be called a “wall.” I loved the analogy. I equated it to a wall in my own home where people I invited in could see what I thought was important enough to put up so people visiting my home could see it. And, just like inviting people into my real home to see my real walls, with Facebook, people could see what I placed on my virtual wall. 

Even with the shift to a news feed, if people agree with what I post there, they might write a comment or click the “like” button. I equate people clicking “like” to someone nodding in agreement with what they see. If people disagree with what I post, they can politely not say anything and move along. 

At least, that is what one might expect from someone displaying good manners. After all, it’s how one should act in real life. If you’re at someone’s house and you see something with which you disagree, you (hopefully) don’t blatantly challenge people on it, nor belittle them, nor call them narrow-minded fear-mongerers, misguided souls or any other name. 

If showing respect is a value to which you ascribe, allow me to strongly encourage you to practice the same etiquette when online. 

Let’s also consider a major do:  Follow your company’s social media policy. 

And, if you have a say in it, make sure your company has a policy for Internet use that includes the use of social media. 

As mentioned earlier, the number of people using social media at work is growing, thus, so will the number of people who believe they can say or do anything online – even while at work. If your company has a social media policy, this problem can be minimized, but this only happens if everyone knows about the policy. As much as people might not like them, these policies should be reviewed and discussed with some level of regularity. 

Consider the man who thought he was being loyal to his company by criticizing his company’s competitors in an online forum. One day his supervisor learned of his posts and decided they didn’t want people being disrespectful, no matter, so he ended up firing the man. This didn’t have to happen if a social media policy was in place and understood by the employees. 

Even if you’re not in a position to enact such a policy, it is wise to advocate for them. Research shows that when employees are aware of their company’s social media policy, fewer employees misuse social media.

Another do: Remember that what you post is permanent. 

As the saying goes, the Internet is forever. Venting about a frustrating experience may be cathartic at the moment, but those things stick around. For example, I once read a story about an employee who took to social media to complain about her low salary and the tough time she was having making ends meet. Mixed into that rant was a singular comment about the owner of the company. As thing go, the owner of the company ended up seeing the woman’s rant. He decided he didn’t like the comment nor the fact that she put his company in a bad light, and the next week she didn’t have a job. 

Another do: Pay attention to how people interpret online communications. 

You could also think of it this way: anything you post online or in a chat can and will be used against you. And it can be used against you even if you think it’s inert. I remember reading about a woman who nearly lost her job because she responded to a request from her boss by using the “OK” hand emoji. In her mind, she was letting him know she received the instruction. In his mind, using an emoji to respond to a superior was bad enough, but at the time, the “OK” hand sign was rumored to be a symbol of white supremacy, so he thought her use of that particular emoji was also offensive. 

Also, unlike writing on a singular piece of paper that can be in only one place at a time, things posted online can literally be seen around the world in a matter of moments. Even in similar cultures, people have communication filters that can scramble otherwise innocent meanings. Working internationally adds additional filters that make things even more complicated. 

Bottom line, like anything else, social media can be a blessing or a curse, and dangers are found in places you might not expect. The Internet is still a new and growing universe, and it appears social media will always be an important part of it. Be careful. •

Daniel Bobinski, who has a doctorate in theology, is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach him by email at DanielBobinski@protonmail.com or 208-375-7606. 

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