Social Media Tips for Employees, Job Seekers, and HR

The modern-day intergenerational workforce is a disgusting and murky cesspool of hippie-boomer ideals, Gen X cynicism and Gen Y enthusiasm. In an age of risk-adverse corporations and hyper-litigious employees, many of us are faced with epic and confusing ethical challenges on a daily basis.

Where do employees go when they need answers to life’s big questions?

They come to me — your average Human Resources blogger lady.

“Uh, can I check my Facebook at work?”

Good God, it’s come down to this — questions about social networking. Like every other HR professional who is asked to weigh in on the Twitters and the Googles, I find myself saying, “What have I done wrong with my life that you’re asking me about access to social media?”

Man-oh-man, the 21st century workforce really sucks.

But I’m an optimist and I think that one must look to Joseph Heller to offer a little common sense.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

It’s true. They’re watching.

In the great book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg details how Target knows you’re pregnant before anyone else does. Right now, everything you do on the Internet — and even some of your activity in the real world — is tracked and compiled into one global identification profile that is used to sell you stuff before you even know you need it.

In short, there is no privacy. Not on the Internet. Not in real life. Not at work. All of your personal and consumer behaviors are starting to coalesce into one social graph that can and probably will be used against you when you buy a home, apply for a job or try to buy a certain brand of vitamins.

It’s a damn shame. You can’t watch a hilarious cat video on YouTube without being held accountable for that choice in 20 years when cats probably won’t be in vogue. Unfortunately, the era of Big Data — combined with the declining right to privacy — is here. It’s up to you to act accordingly.

So if you are a job seeker, do the bare minimum. Log out of your Gmail account, clear your cookies and Google yourself to see what comes up. If there is anything embarrassing or incorrect, get your story straight. Be able to explain the situation before a recruiter Googles you and finds it herself.

And she will.

If you are an employee, remember that you don’t own the IT infrastructure that supports your Facebook addiction at work. So when you use your company’s Wi-Fi to check sports scores or spy on your high-school ex-boyfriend, you are sharing personal data over a network that you don’t own. And all of that information is discoverable, you fool. If you’re going to harass a fellow colleague, make it difficult for the lawyers. Use your own damn phone and pay for a decent data plan.

If you work in HR or recruiting, remember that not everything you see on the Internet is true. I once went on a trip to Washington and made a video of myself doing the weather at the Newseum. I uploaded the video to YouTube to show my mom. Guess what. I’ve never been a weathergirl -- although I think I have the chops -- but you wouldn’t know that if you did an unreliable and invalid search for me on the Internet and saw this clip.

I can honestly hear one of my HR/recruiter friends saying, “Laurie is a qualified candidate but I don’t like the outfit she is wearing. And I don’t think she knows a cirrus cloud from a hole in her butt.”

God, I hate HR people.

So Joseph Heller’s words continue to be relevant and meaningful. You are not wrong. Be paranoid. The whole world is watching.

But as a side note — do try to have a little fun. There is no joy in life if you can’t listen to a conference call and watch Maru chase his box or otters holding hands.

If watching animal videos at work is wrong, you can fire me right now.

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