One of the main benefits of social media--quickly distributed pervasiveness--could also hurt you and your online reputation, and maybe cost you a job.
One innocent "tweet" intended to tell your friends that you received a job offer could also make you look completely foolish. Take a look at what "theconnor" posted on Twitter yesterday:
"Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."
D'oh! This kind of honesty might have made sense if your settings were private and you were telling a close-knit, trusted group of followers only. But "theconnor's" settings were not set that way and someone who happens to be a Cisco channel partner advocate did not appreciate the level of honesty. Here's how Tim Levad responded to "theconnor's" tweet:
"timmylevad: @theconnor Who is the hiring manager. I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web. 1 day ago from TweetDeck Â· Reply Â· View Tweet"
Ouch. "theconnor," who has since made private settings (with an ironic image that appears to have something stuffed in its mouth), is being wryly referred to as "cisco fatty" now.
Not only has this response garnered a whole lot of attention from members of Twitter who are ridiculing the heck out of this person, it's also spawned a Website ciscofatty.com. That site appears to have identified the individual who is "theconnor" via Google cache, but the only link that worked for me was the image (that shows this person to be female). Since I can't verify the things on ciscofatty.com (how about some contact info, you quick-witted viral traffic gamer), I'm not going to delve much deeper into this person's identity, I wanted to simply highlight the lesson to be learned.
Be very careful what you say and what company names you use. While it's also not clear if the person did or did not, in fact, get the job at Cisco, it's a strong cautionary tale about using social media poorly. We all have opinions, but they can have serious negative effects. It's way too easy to be callous, dismissive and sarcastic with tweets and status updates on Facebook or elsewhere.
The lines between work and play are becoming much more transparent with these technologies, and the use of them at work and for work--for self-promotion, professional networking and for showing your active participation in the latest technologies--can be a marvelous, efficient tool.
Does careless commentary necessarily lead to risky behavior at work? Some might interpret it that way. The larger question for human resources and hiring managers at Cisco -- or any company -- is to know how much weight to put on an individual tweet or update that was not intended to be seen.
One the one hand, people are moody, the economy is bad and the person may have just been publicly battling themselves over whether a job was really right for them. I imagine a lot of people in this economy are taking jobs less than ideal, especially ones that pay well. We all have had butterflies about taking a job once an offer is on the table, and the fear of hating a job is always there when it's brand-spanking new.
On the other hand, no one will be surprised if the job offer is rescinded and Cisco goes looking for a more responsible individual. I know too many people that have "replied to all" in an e-mail and made themselves look very foolish, but usually that means you get a talking to from HR and management (but if it's bad enough, you could always be fired). Problem here is that "theconnor" doesn't actually have the job yet.
Better to avoid this kind of thing altogether. Edit yourself, keep company names out of your posts and remember that people you don't want to be watching are watching.
Another recent example of this came from a careless comment from a PR representative from Ketchum in New York City who had FedEx as a client. Evidently, in January this gentleman known as Mr. Andrews disrespected the city of Memphis over Twitter the morning he was to do a presentation at FedEx on digital media, and got an earful from a FedEx employee. Here's the offending tweet:
Read the response by an angered employee here. Beyond being embarrassing, one can imagine Ketchum having additional stress and strain on the relationship with FedEx, and in that world, this person could have lost their job very easily.