4 Ways You're Hurting Your Rep on Social Media

Here are four damaging things you may be doing online.

August 18, 2012, 8:22 AM

Aug. 18, 2012 — -- intro: During an hour-long conference call last week, one attendee arrived 10 minutes late only to let the rest of us know he'd have to duck out of the meeting a half-hour early because he was so slammed with Important Company Business.

This wasn't some pointless confab about something the group had already discussed 18 times. It was a one-time logistics meeting called by a client who a handful of consultants, including me and Mr. Important Company Business, would be working for this summer.

Curious who this bighead was, I checked out his Twitter feed after the call. There I saw that he'd spent the past hour tweeting with friends or colleagues (or perhaps just strangers) about nothing of consequence, the social media equivalent of kvetching about the weather. That's what he'd been so swamped with the 10 minutes before joining our call, what he continued to do during the 20 minutes he graced us with his presence and what he spent the remainder of the hour cranking on while the rest of us finished the meeting.

Some might call this multitasking. I call it obnoxious.

Of course, there's more than one way to tarnish your reputation using social media. By now, we've all heard the sobering tales of employees -- as well as public figures -- fired or forced to resign over the salacious, intoxicated or inflammatory social media posts they made.

But somewhere between the NSFW (not safe for work) posts that can render you unhirable and those perfectly innocuous posts about the movie you saw last night lies a gray area. In it lurk those social media flubs that might make your colleagues think twice before recruiting you onto their next high-profile project or trusting you with a critical company secret. If any of the below sound familiar, there's a good chance your social media antics are hurting your professional rep.

quicklist: title: Using a Swimsuit Shot in Your LinkedIn Profile text:

So you took a tropical vacation and got all relaxed and tan and happy. Your friends on Facebook expect you to post the boastful photos of yourself in swim trunks cheerily hoisting a margarita atop a friend's yacht as though you do that every weekend. In fact, they want you to post pictures so they can resent you accordingly. But post a photo of your swimwear-adorned self on LinkedIn, and your professional contacts will think you're weird. They might even question your judgment.

Just ask Vanessa Richardson, a freelance journalist in Nevada City, Calif., who recently received such a LinkedIn request from a business development director she once worked with. Atop the guy's professional summary, which, Richardson noted, was professional, complete with words like "leverage," "implement" and "strategic," was a profile photo of her contact on a boat, without a shirt.

Dubious of the appropriateness of the photo, Richardson clicked to enlarge it. "And that's when I saw the tuft of chest hair," she said. "Facebook's one thing, but on LinkedIn, that just seems to be where you do your professional stuff." I agree with Richardson. Unless you work in get-rich-quick infomercials, LinkedIn is no place for your shirtless (or bikini-clad) yachting photos.

quicklist: title: Talking Trash About Your Customers on Facebooktext:

Most people know that having professional acquaintances for Facebook friends isn't license to share every last thought that enters your head with them. That's why small-business owner Shalita Heard was shocked when her graphic designer, who was also a Facebook friend, began disparaging the modeling and music industries on the social media site, even though the designer had a number of models and musicians as clients.

"She would post things like, 'If you have a million pictures on Facebook, why would anybody hire you as a model? They already have all the pictures of you they need. Stupid ...'" said Heard, who runs a hair-extension business in Little Rock, Ark.

Worried that her association with the volatile designer would damage her own rep, Heard quickly severed professional ties and unfriended the woman. "I have a very low tolerance for ignorance in my social media news feeds," Heard said. "When you go into business, you can't do all the things that your friends do online. If a business owner sees that this is the way you carry on, they're not going to want to be involved."

quicklist: title: Live-Tweeting Your Media Distraction of Choice While Working at Hometext:

Everyone already thinks telecommuters and freelancers laze about in their underwear all day long (Case in point: My husband, who asked me over dinner last night, 'So what did you do today?'). That's why it's a bad idea to give friends and colleagues added reason to call into question your ability to put nose to grindstone when no one's looking.

Yet home-based workers, whether offsite for the day or the duration, do exactly that all the time. Many of us just spent two weeks live-tweeting our favorite events during the summer Olympics. And now that they're over, we've resumed live-tweeting U.S. soccer scores, baseball upsets and preseason football updates. But you don't need an affinity for spectator sports to make these social media blunders. Countless home-based workers live-tweet the news of the day, from untimely celebrity deaths to the latest evidence of the imminent zombie apocalypse. If it's a slow work day and a slow news day, some will even pop in a "Harry Potter" or "X-Men" DVD and live-tweet that.

Here, you may again cry, "Big whoop -- welcome to multitasking!" Only your cubicle-bound comrades at corporate HQ, who do not have the luxury of Netflixing and live-tweeting season 1 of "Glee" while they work, may not see it that way. Most likely, they will see your incessant Twitter triflings as the equivalent of Instagramming your prime suntanning spot at the beach the same day you called in sick.

quicklist: title: Complaining About a Co-Worker You Forgot You Friendedtext:

As is by now common knowledge, it's best to assume that any scathing Facebook posts you make about an employer or a professional acquaintance will come back to haunt you. Multiply that by infinity if you have the misfortune of forgetting which professional contacts you've friended on Facebook.

That's what happened at a company Megan Broussard used to work for. Because Broussard worked on a social media team, it was customary for co-workers to friend one another on Facebook. As invariably happens in office life, one co-worker became frustrated with another, coincidentally over the strategy for a client's Facebook campaign. Soon co-worker A took to griping about co-worker B's "incompetence" on Facebook. Talk about putting your pixelated foot in your mouth.

"The person he was complaining about left a comment on the post, saying, 'Did you forget we're Facebook friends?'" said Broussard, now a career coach in New York and blogger at ProfessionGal. "It's incredible. Because social media was what we did every single day."

This work is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and former cubicle dweller. Her books include My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. Follow her at @anti9to5guide.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events