Social media has become increasingly powerful when it comes to the job search. Not only are various networks being used to stay in touch with family members and catch up on the latest news, but they’re also being used for finding your next job. Because of the emphasis being placed on your social presence as it relates to your personal brand, you must be careful with what you post or share on social media.

This year, 2018, seems to have been the year of old tweets surfacing and getting people, particularly athletes, in trouble. From top NFL draft picks to MLB All-Stars, these examples of regrettable posts serve as a reminder that your social media presence can negatively influence your professional life. Recently a job seeker had an internship offer revoked due to an inappropriate exchange on Twitter with a user who, unbeknownst to her, was a member of the National Space Council.

While it seems like these instances only make the news if they go viral, this actually happens far more often than you would think. They serve as an important reminder that the thin line between social media and your professional life is actually far thinner than you think. We have always been told to “watch your language,” but in a time where even the smallest comment or post can easily be misconstrued, this advice has become increasingly important.

While this might scare some people away from using social media in general, that doesn’t have to be the case. If used correctly, social media can be a fantastic tool for both personal and professional development. In an article for The Muse, Alyse Kalish has some questions to ask yourself before pressing “post” to avoid any potential repercussions.

What’s My Company’s Social Media Policy?

Some companies have laid out guidelines for their employees on what is and isn’t acceptable to post on social media. While it is common for some people to have a disclaimer in their online biography with something along the lines of “All thoughts are my own,” or “Retweets ≠ Endorsements” it might be better off not talking about your company online to begin with. For example, Best Buy’s social media policy outlines what employees should and shouldn’t disclose online and even includes the following statement: “Basically, if you find yourself wondering if you can talk about something you learned at work – don’t.”

Having to worry about what you say on social media is something that employees did not have to think about even a few short years ago. With today’s technological advancements and popularity of social media, every employee should be cognizant of the consequences that could occur as the result of one post.

Is This Something I’d Be Comfortable Having My Employer See?

If your company doesn’t have a clear-cut social media policy, a good rule of thumb when considering whether or not to post something is to ask yourself the aforementioned question. In your personal life, if you have to think about posting something, a good thing to ask yourself is whether or not it is something you’d be comfortable having your parents/grandparents see. Although it sounds silly, chances are your parents and maybe even grandparents have a Facebook or some social media account, and are maybe even more active than you!

When you’re working for a company, it is key to remember that you represent the organization even when not in the office. Just like an athlete represents his or her team on and off the field, to an outsider, you provide a window into the organization. Because of this, you must be wary of what you decide to post online.

Is Anything I’m Sharing Confidential or Sensitive Information?

It goes without saying that confidential information is just that – confidential. It shouldn’t be shared with anyone outside the company online or offline.

If you have to question whether or not the information is confidential, it is probably best to not post it at all. Kalish says, “When in doubt, ask your boss or HR department before posting something that may be for internal use only.” If you’re chomping at the bit to share some exciting information, you can also just wait for the company to post it and share the accompanying post. This makes for great PR for the company and provides increased exposure.

Is This A Conversation I Need To Have Online?

While the line between personal and professional social media use has become even thinner, the same can be said of reacting and responding. It is easy to quickly react to something and fire off a quick post, but responding thoughtfully takes time. Reacting is often the result of an emotion and responding, while also dealing with emotions, can involve logic as well.

The article says it best, “Having a voice (and using it) matters. But, there are moments when you have to evaluate where the best place is to let that voice be heard. In some cases, it makes sense to post on social media. In other cases, it makes more sense to talk offline or on other forums.”

There is often little use to getting involved in online arguments, as people are more likely to say things they don’t mean because they get to hide behind a keyboard and screen. One of the great things about social media is the exposure to viewpoints that differ from yours, and that is perfectly okay! But choosing when to get involved in the conversation, and how, makes a huge difference. Just because someone’s opinion is different than yours, it doesn’t mean that either party is wrong. Remember this next time you go down an Internet rabbit hole and find yourself arguing with someone you don’t even know.

Is This Conversation In Line With My Personal Brand?

When it comes to career development, everything circles back to your personal brand. If something you post or share doesn’t align with your brand, it could damage your reputation. If you’re on the job hunt, it is important to consider your personal and professional brand, as what you share becomes your brand. Muse Career Coach Christie Artis has 20 years of HR experience and says, “What you post follows you and becomes a part of your professional brand.”

Wrap Up

Social media is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to your development. The fine line between personal and professional use is constantly tip-toed each time you decide to press “post.” Next time you type up a “fire” Tweet or post, make sure you ask yourself these five questions to ensure that you are avoiding any potential fallout.

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