Social Media Offers Risks, Rewards for Executives

Many U.S. companies and their executives rely on Social Media to build their brand, cultivate customer loyalty, and keep their finger on their customers’ collective pulse. Individual executives, like most people, probably also have their own Social Media presence, whether that’s on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or whatever other new tool has become The Next Big Thing between the time I write this and the time it’s actually published.

Having a well-maintained Social Media presence can be a valuable career asset, but it must be meticulously tended. Indiscreet postings and photos, hackers, outdated profiles, and poorly maintained pages can mean an executive’s Social Media profile is more liability than asset.

A 2011 study by the social media monitoring service Reppler found that 91 percent of the 300 employers it surveyed reported using social networking sites to screen prospective employees, with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn being the sites they screened most (in that order). Almost half of those employers did the Social Media screen after receiving an application but before an interview—in other words, before the applicant had a chance to charm them in person.

This study didn’t specify what level employees were the subjects of the Social Media screening, but executives, who are the face of the company, should expect to be even more highly scrutinized than other employees. They should assume, therefore, that every single thing they put on any Social Media site will be reviewed by their employer and/or prospective employer. 

Of the 300 employers surveyed by Reppler, 69 percent said they had rejected a candidate because of what they found on a social networking site. Things like inappropriate photos and comments, content that showed the applicant drank to excess or used drugs, lied about their qualifications, or posted negative comments or confidential information about a previous employer. “Demonstrated poor communication skills” was also a chief offender.

The good news is that almost as many companies, 68 percent, said that their Social Media screening actually helped the applicant because their online profile created a positive impression of his or her organizational and communications skills, creativity, professionalism, awards, references and overall well-roundedness.

So whether you’re in the job market or not, take a close look at your Social Media profile. Regardless of what your privacy settings are, make sure that everything you post online is something that would make a recruiter or hiring committee more, not less, likely to hire you.

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