How to maintain social media privacy at work (and not get fired)
For better or worse, social media has become a key part of the workplace. Not only do companies hire social media coordinators and expect employees to interact with or post on company accounts, but many employees also regularly post about their jobs on their personal social media profiles. As a result, there’s little social media privacy in the workplace.
The main reason is that some employers reserve the right to monitor their employees’ internet activity and communication records at work, including social media messages and posts. They do this as a performance evaluation tool, but also to ensure employees aren’t spilling proprietary information or making false or damaging claims.
But where is the line when it comes to social media privacy at work?
Social media privacy in and out of work
While companies are legally allowed to monitor your internet behavior at work, they’re not allowed to monitor your social media accounts or internet activity outside the office — at least not in an official professional capacity. Employers may send you a friend request or invitation to connect to keep tabs on you and see what you post, but it’s up to you whether or not you accept.
However, it’s common — and legal — for companies to scour potential employees’ social media profiles during the hiring process. If they see evidence that a candidate goes against company values or conducts themselves poorly, they may use it as a reason not to hire that person.
Employers may also have a stipulation in their company social media policy that says they’re within their rights to fire you if you post something disparaging about the company, whether or not it’s on company time. They can also fire you if you have a personal website or blog that they feel reflects poorly on the company or has the potential to offend clients, business partners, or higher-ups.
As for an employee’s social media rights, federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against a current or prospective employee based on information from their social media profile that relates to their race, origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or immigration or citizenship status. Federal law also gives employees the right to use social media to engage in union or labor-related activity with a union or co-workers.
Regardless of your relationship with social media, it’s important to be smart about how you use your accounts in and out of work. Taking certain precautions can help you hold your position and maintain your social media privacy. Here are six easy ways to do that:
1. Study your company’s social media policy
If you haven’t read your company’s social media policy before, or if you need a quick refresher, take some time to review it. Depending on your industry, company, and particular job description, the policy might be a couple of paragraphs or a couple of pages in length. Most social media policies provide the following information:
A code of conduct when using social media for personal reasons at work
A code of conduct for using social media outside of work
A disclaimer from the company saying they reserve the right to monitor your social media use in the workplace
Guidelines for conducting yourself with colleagues via social media
Guidelines for using social media as part of your role at the company
Reading the social media policy can give you a better understanding of your company’s boundaries and rules, as well as where you may have to take extra caution. If you’re confused about any component of the policy, make sure to ask questions and talk to someone in HR.
2. Don’t use social media to complain about work
Your personal social media accounts aren’t a good space to vent about your manager, gossip about co-workers, or share information about clients and customers. Not only does public gossiping and complaining paint you in a bad light, it can also jeopardize your job. If you share proprietary information or say something defamatory about your company, they may be within their rights to fire you, depending on what their social media policy details.
There is an exception to this rule, though. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects workers’ rights to use social media for the purpose of collective worker advancement or protection. Think: discussing unfair working conditions or advocating for equal pay.
Just make sure to save person-specific critiques for a more private space, unless you’re prepared to deal with the potential fallout.
3. Limit social media activity in the workplace
Because companies reserve the right to monitor your internet activity at work, they can monitor any social media sites you visit on company-owned devices. To better preserve your social media privacy, it’s a good practice to limit your social media usage at work unless it’s part of your job description. Or, just stick to going on social media on your personal phone only. The one exception may be LinkedIn, since it’s a business networking site.
If you do occasionally log into your social media accounts on a company device, make sure you’re not posting or searching for anything inappropriate, and remember to log out of your account before you close your browser.
4. Maintain separate social media accounts for work and personal use
If you’re a social media manager, social media copywriter, or graphic designer, managing or posting on your company’s social media account might be part of your job description. If that’s the case, you need to take a couple of extra steps to maintain your social media privacy.
Here’s why: Every company or business-related social media account is tied to an administrator with a personal account. On Facebook, for example, you can authorize certain people to be managers of business pages and accounts. If you’re one of these managers, your personal and company profiles are linked. Not only does that force you to use the same password to log into both profiles, but it also makes your personal profile visible to anyone monitoring your social media activity.
To protect your personal social media privacy, ask if you can create a separate social media account that exists for the sole purpose of being an administrator for the company page. This might be a fake company profile or the profile of your CEO or founder, for example.
Another option is to ask for a separate work phone, so you can conduct social media business on a different device than the one you use for personal reasons. Keeping your personal and work-related social media accounts separate can go a long way toward protecting your personal information and privacy.
5. Know your social media privacy rights
For example, it’s not legal for a company to demand that you hand over your social media passwords, nor is it legal for them to require that you post certain things about the company on your personal profile.
If you have concerns about your social media privacy in the workplace, talk to HR or consider consulting a lawyer.
6. Adjust your social media settings
One of the best ways to protect your social media privacy is to adjust your privacy settings. Depending on your company culture and particular social media policy, you may want to limit who you’re friends with from your office, keep your “about” information vague, or prevent certain people from seeing your profile.
On Facebook, for example, you can adjust who sees your posts and either restrict or limit access. Other simple privacy adjustments include the following:
Limit old posts from popping up.
Request to approve photos you’re tagged in before they go on your timeline.
Untag yourself from unflattering or inappropriate photos.
Prevent people from searching for you using your phone number or email address.
Prohibit search engines from linking to your profile.
Limit who can see your public profile.
Restrict who can see your connections.
Adjust how your profile appears off LinkedIn.
Change your viewing mode to private.
Change who can mention or tag you in posts.
Choose who can see when you’re active on the site.
Choose who can follow you and see your updates.
Protect your tweets so only people who follow you can see them, which also lets you approve or deny requests from people who want to follow you.
Disable the setting that automatically adds a location to your tweets.
Manage who’s allowed to tag you in photos.
Set your account to private.
Prevent other people from seeing your online activity status.
Disable the setting that allows people to share your stories as messages.
Improve your social media privacy with FigLeaf
You may have limited social media privacy in the workplace, but you should be able to dictate your level of privacy protection everywhere else. Tools like FigLeaf give you more social media privacy outside the office and on your terms. We know privacy is a personal choice, so our app lets you decide exactly how visible you want to be on any social media platform at any time.