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Posted on 04.17.2014

Risky Business: Online Comments & Social Media Interactions May Have More Impact Than We Intend

When Facebook officially turned 10 earlier this year, the company took the opportunity to reiterate what founder Mark Zuckerburg has long espoused as Facebook's mission: "to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."

Social media and all Web 2.0 platforms have undeniably enhanced and multiplied our opportunity to "share"and "connect" with the world. But can we share and connect too broadly, too often, too much? Research shows most people say the answer is "yes" - and for professionals working in regulated industries like healthcare, the answer is "definitely"

We've all heard or read of cases in which licensed health professionals have lost jobs, lost spouses, been arrested or suffered other serious consequences as the result of social media indiscretion. So if you're working in a regulated industry, consider these five tips as you engage in social media - in either your professional and private lives.

  1. Understand your presence on the Internet.  Enter your name into a search engine from time and see what comes up (in content, images and video). Better yet, set up a standing Google Alert for your name - you might be surprised by what you find.
  2. Know your employer's social media policy and follow it. Smart companies have social media policies that give employees clear guidelines about how the company is - and is not - to be represented on the Internet. Some policies also fold in the company's overall code of conduct, and give direction about how employees are expected to conduct themselves online, particularly in regards to online connections with patients. Wherever your employer's policies fall on the spectrum, understand the expectations and follow them.
  3. Maximize privacy settings on all social media sites. Be honest - when was the last time you read the fine print Terms and Conditions, on any website, before clicking "I agree"? Yet most Facebook users would be shocked to see how broadly available their posts and photos are. Take the time to review your privacy settings and lock down everything you can - or accept the fact your future employer (or spouse, or mother in law) will see those embarrassing photos from college.
  4. Assume nothing on social media is confidential. See items 1, 2 and 3 above, and remember that comments made to newspaper sites, online reviews, blog posts and even eBay auctions may be searchable online if you use a consistent screen name or email address.
  5. Understand the collateral effect of your social media interactions and connections. Building on the idea that nothing is confidential, realize that people may assume they "know" a person by the trail he or she leaves on the internet. If a Google search on a job candidate shows the applicant frequently participates in online sports gambling forums, makes posts about "losing a paycheck on the playoffs last weekend" and uses an avatar of a football with a dollar sign on it, an HR department somewhere may just conclude that the candidate displays certain behavioral risk factors.


Rosemary Plorin is President of Lovell Communications.  You can view more of her blog posts here. Connect with her at rosemary@lovell.com or @plorin.  Ã¢€‹

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