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Top 10 Social Media Rules for Professionals (Hint: Don't Be Like Justine Sacco)

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First Posted: Jan 10, 2014 01:59 PM EST
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As the Justine Sacco SNAFU has proven to us, sometimes social media can undo the very professionals it purports to uplift. While the Internet -- and various forms of social media -- have made it all-too-easy for us, as human beings, to share our thoughts with the world in 140 characters or less, there are definitely guidelines to follow when it comes to saving your job, your face, and yes, even your whole corporate image... lest, of course, you end up getting "Sacco'ed" (pun intended).  

As the Millennials graduate from college and enter the corporate world, the following list of social media rules will definitely come in handy in the age of the overshare. 

1. Keep Your Professional Life and Your Personal Life Separate: I, personally speaking, have learned this one the hard way. I have four absolutely adorable nephews, and nothing makes me prouder as an aunt than to show them off and have everyone go "ooh" and "ahhh" and "awww." I also have someone in my life that I love more than anything, and I think he's the most handsome man on the planet, and I think that the sun shines out of his ass. No, seriously.

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These two factors, however, are part and parcel of my PRIVATE life, not my PUBLIC life. When someone is looking to hire me, they don't care about any of that -- and neither, frankly, should the rest of the public. With the number of weirdos, freaks, and zombies out there in the world -- not to mention the sheer number of attention-seekers who are dying to get attention at any cost -- do you really want to risk putting your personal relationships, and your family, in any sort of jeopardy? Moreover, do you really want to risk your potential boss seeing pictures of you in a bikini on the beach? 

The best way to avoid this problem, of course, is to keep ALL personal photos off social media. If, however, you MUST share that oh-so-adorable picture of you and the Booski at dinner, create TWO social media accounts. Got a Facebook? Make a PRIVATE page (and lock that up tighter than Fort Knox) and ONLY have your FAMILY and a few close personal friends on there, then make a BUSINESS page where you can showcase your work. Twitter? Have a PRIVATE page for your friends and family, and a PUBLIC page for your brand. Instagram? Same thing. (Creating an alias for the private pages is a bonus... the less ways people can track your private moves, the better.) 

2. Watch Your Profile Picture: I don't care how slamming your body is -- don't put a picture out there that would EVER compromise your integrity in the business world. A headshot, or a nice casual photo with you smiling, is more than sufficient. 

3. Enough With The Food Porn: Unless you make your living as a food critic for The New York Times, we don't need to see your picture of Starbucks cappucino and your apple-bran muffin. Seriously -- no one cares. (And we REALLY don't need to see your ingredients for your latest recipe for chicken a la king. What are you posting it for? Are you that desperate for strange men who can't pick you out of a crowd of two to make a comment along the lines of "ZOMG U R WiFeY MaTeRiAl cOoK 4 mE"?)

4. Don't FUI/TUI: That stands for "Facebooking Under the Inflence" and "Tweeting Under the Influence." Did you have too much to drink? Did you, perhaps, indulge in some illicit substances that are only legal in about 20 states, or maybe even some that aren't legal at all? Put the phone away. And for God's sake, the very LAST thing you should do is post a picture of yourself either drinking or -- worse yet -- indulging in illegal drugs. Never mind the fact that it's a bad professional look... you ARE aware that law enforcement is using social media to track criminals these days, aren't you?

5. Be Politically Correct: I know, I know -- everyone's too sensitive these days. But unless you're Jim Norton, Howard Stern, or another "shock jock" or professional comedian, don't even THINK about posting something that could be misconstrued as a slam against someone's race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or disability. In this case, it's better to err on the side of caution because, while people in Florida and other Gulf States/red states think Phil Robertson is some kind of working class hero (uhm...), people in New York, California, and other blue/progressive states will file you under the "redneck" and "ignorant" categories if you agree with what he had to say about black people & gay people. And rightly so. (And keep the offensive words out of your mouth. Really. I don't care if your friends think it's acceptable to say the N-word. No company in America will tolerate it...)

6. If You're Going to Complain, Get To The Point: One of the most effective ways to get a company to respond to your complaint about customer service is to take it online. (I know -- I've done it myself.) But if you're going to complain about a company, just GET TO THE POINT. Saying "Dear Verizon: Please repair this matter ASAP" will get you a lot further than cursing them out, slandering them, and likening their products to Nazi memorabilia (yes, I've seen that before).

7. Don't Tag Everyone And Their Mother: Don't assume that just because YOU think a picture of you and your BFF is oh-so-cute, that your BFF feels the same way. Maybe your BFF has a government job with Level 5 security clearance (as mine did for 15 years, before he got a job at a university), and therefore REALLY needs to mind his/her online P's and Q's. 

8. Be Polite: Chivalry may be dead, but you would be surprised how much further a "please" and a "thanks" will get you. And in case you forgot to be told: addressing someone, especially an elder, by their first name without their expressed permission is a MAJOR no-no. The words "mister" and "miss" are NOT difficult to say.

9. Act Your Age: Unless you are 12 years old (and you shouldn't be on social media if you're 12 anyway), spell out words, use proper grammar and capitalization, and don't sound like a Mean Girls-type teenager.

10. If All Else Fails, Ask "Would I Want My Mother Seeing This?": Try to put yourself in an outsider's shoes -- specifically, your mother's shoes. Would you want your mother to see you bent over a mirror snorting cocaine? Acting drunk and wild and crazy with 20 strange men around you? Tooting your butt in the air, in a bathroom mirror, with an unwashed toilet and your son behind you? Saying swear words that would offend a Marine troop? If the answer to all of these questions is "no," then don't post it, no matter what it is.

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