Using Social Media Wisely

Social Media bubble smallNewton’s Third Law of Motion says that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. If Newton were alive today, he might add a corollary to this law that says for every action, there’s a corresponding Facebook update, Instagram photo and Tweet. 

Social media is, without a doubt, one of the most revolutionary things to happen in communication since the telegraph. It’s changed the way people connect, the way we behave, the way we purchase or participate, and even the way we learn. In fact, a 12-year study by SRI International for the US Department of Education demonstrated that online students outperform students in a face-to-face classroom.

We are no strangers to technology here at Grantham. Our classrooms combine cutting edge technology with leading curriculum to create an affordable education that fits with your life – not the other way around. With technology usage in the classroom now starting as early as kindergarten, it’s no surprise that generations of students are truly comfortable with the interactive world in which we live. But  are we getting a little too comfortable?

Remember Lindsey Stone, the young woman who thought her inappropriate sense of humor would buy her a “get out of Facebook jail free” card when she posted a photo of herself in a disrespectful pose in Arlington National Cemetery? Ultimately, she was fired from her job with LIFE (Living Independently For Ever), a non-profit organization aimed at helping individuals with disabilities.

Or how about the Domino’s pizza employee who posted a questionable (to say the least) video of himself on YouTube and was subsequently relieved of his job?

Lindsey and the Pizza Guy are just a couple of a growing number of cautionary tales. Not only can a social media misstep cost you the job you already have, it can make it harder for you to get a job in the future. According to, a little more than eight out of every ten employers reviews candidates’ social media profiles before extending a job offer.  Whether or not you “friend” them, a hiring manager is very likely to check your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn profiles. So what do they look for? The answer might surprise you.

First of all, if you’re NOT on any social media pages, that can be a red flag for an employer. Especially if they are a prominent local or national brand. Like it or not, social media has blurred the lines between professional and personal – you and your behavior reflect on the people who hire you.

And if you’re not participating in social media, there’s usually only a few reasons why: 1) You don’t know how to use it (not a good argument for being hired); 2) You have no desire to participate (which means you wouldn’t be a brand advocate in social media channels); or 3) You have something to hide (deviant or illegal behavior, financial troubles, etc.).

Suppose you are on social media. Are those photos from last year’s New Year’s Eve party going to eliminate your shot at winning a good job (or promotion, or acceptance to college)? The answer will vary from employer to employer. There are a few simple ways to preserve your professional and your social dignity while you participate in the wide world of social media. Jobvite published this infographic that paints a pretty clear picture: recruiters aren’t just looking at your resume; they’re looking at your online presence.

A few tips to avoid becoming the next cautionary tale everyone talks about include:

1) Assume nothing is private. Ever. If you wouldn’t show it to your elderly aunt, it might not be a good idea to post it on the Internet. Never post anything you wouldn’t want to appear on the evening news. (Just ask Lindsey Stone.)

2) Watch out for hot-button topics. It’s wonderful to be passionate about a cause, but the Internet can behave a lot like a great big dinner party – which means controversial topics can turn sour on you very quickly. Unless your long-term career goal involves advocating for a specific cause, you might consider keeping political, religious, or otherwise controversially-themed posts offline.

3) Know and apply the social media policies and guidelines that are in place at your job, your school, or any other organization in which you take part.

4) Use the privacy settings on every site. Make sure you’re clear about who can view what. Just remember – privacy settings are not infallible, so don’t let them be a stand-in for common sense.

Freedom of speech is a cherished part of our Nation’s Constitution, and I would not advocate censorship or dishonesty. It’s a good idea to think about the Internet the way you might think about getting a tattoo. Whatever you put out there today, you will have to live with forever. And when you consider the growing social net each of us casts – from friends, family and colleagues to employers, congregations, future in-laws, future children or even grandchildren – it’s wise to use discretion whenever you post anything online. 


Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.


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