By now, you probably understand the potential pitfalls of using social media such as Facebook.  One mis-click can seriously damage your professional reputation – forever.

So when co-workers and other associates want to connect with you online, what’s the smartest way to manage your social media accounts?  Here are some tips for successfully mixing business with social networking:

Think before you accept friend requests. Before you accept a friend request from a co-worker, client, current or former boss, consider the potential pros and cons of the virtual relationship.  On the one hand, using Facebook for professional networking can strengthen business relationships and even help move you forward in your career.  On the other, friending the boss means that the good and the bad of your online persona are now fair game.

So think before you click.  If you ever have, or plan to use Facebook to post wild photos or vent about your job, you should reconsider friending any professional contacts.  Tip: Use Facebook’s Friend List feature to separate out your Facebook friends into at least a few types of lists (e.g., Friends, Family, Professional).  You can add each friend to more than one list, and assign each list different privacy policies.

Remove yourself from Facebook search results. If you don’t want people (including co-workers, employers, etc.) to be able to search for you on Facebook, you can easily remove yourself from Facebook’s search results.  Navigate to the main privacy page and click on “View Settings.”  From there, click on the box to the right of “Search for you on Facebook” and select “Friends Only.”

Avoid Info section pitfalls. By design, social networks like Facebook encourage a bit of narcissism.  As a result, you may be tempted to provide lots of details about yourself.  While it’s perfectly acceptable to share bits of information that convey who you are, keep these points in mind:

  • If you do not want to share your political, religious or social views with your boss, co-workers or potential future employers, manage your privacy settings to limit access to this information.  Better yet, don’t include the information at all.
  • Exclude your birth year on your profile.  Your friends and family already know how old you are; professional contacts don’t need to.

Use a critical eye. Before uploading photos, put them under a “professional microscope” and ask yourself, “How would my boss and/or co-workers view this content?”  If you’re unsure, it’s best to leave the photos off your account – or at the very least, control who can view them.

Protect yourself from being tagged in inappropriate photos / videos. While it’s easy to control which photos and videos you upload, it’s virtually impossible to control what others post and tag.  Protect yourself by limiting which images your professional contacts can see.  From the main privacy settings page, click on “Customize Settings,” and scroll down to “Photos and videos you’re tagged in.”  Click on “Edit Settings” and select “Only me” from the drop-down menu.

Watch your tone. It’s important to keep a polite and measured tone when using social networks – especially when your co-workers are your friends.  As a general rule, say things you’d generally feel comfortable saying at work; conversely, avoid posting inside jokes, sarcastic humor or coded comments that may potentially exclude or insult others.