Every so often a topic of conversation bubbles up in the groups in which I participate with social media industry folks. Before I share that topic and you immediately make your opinion, let me start with an anecdote.

Picture this.

It’s 1995. I’m in my first job out of college (I was a convention and tradeshow planner in Chicago). Most of the people on my level in my department were like me – in my 20s, just out of college, single and having fun. These were the days when we lived paycheck to paycheck, when weekends started on Thursdays, when we took Fridays off all summer to drink beer and eat peanuts at Wrigley, when we’d go out at 11 and sleep until 1. Those were the days. We traveled for that job and we’d use our sick days to stay after in a great city to explore. I remember San Francisco and DC with my friend, Jen, Seattle with Christina, and some late night minibar parties with Mylene. We had a great time. Every Thursday, before going out, we’d cram into one of our apartments, order in food and watch Must See TV live. We became great friends and had a ball. And then there were the holiday parties…..

Company holiday parties when  you work for a huge company with lots of young people can get a bit, um, rowdy. We’d start with the formal portion, held at a local hotel ballroom. Either they didn’t feed us enough or the food wasn’t good so inevitably we’d all be over-served by night’s end. Then there was the after party. We used to go to a bar called the Hangge Uppe. I checked, it’s still there. By Monday, there were stories upon stories around the water cooler. You can imagine. But fortunately for us, there were no photos, or rarely any photos… well, no incriminating photos. How lucky we were that now those stories are all urban legend as far as anyone knows (especially our kids).

What if there had been photos? What if they were photos of people doing stupid things or just looking stupid and clearly drunk? The official company party was over, now we were on our own time.

So now we get to the issue… if we did something erratic, stupid or distasteful (I’m not saying we did, go with it), and if there were public photos of us on someone’s personal social feed, does that warrant a reprimand, or even a firing by the company? What if the photos were from a night completely unrelated to a holiday party, just a night out?

So here’s where this conversation gets sticky. There are generally two schools of thought here:

  1. What you do on your own time is none of your company’s business and
  2. What you do on your own time still reflects on the company as you are a representative of that business.

So where do you fall in the conversation? I hear both sides, I do. But I fall on the side of argument #2. In the most recent group conversation, which got pretty heated, those who feel your private life is yours and yours alone may not truly grasp the concept of this open web where everything – everything – is privy to the public. Perhaps you don’t think your behavior warrants an opinion by someone online. But, if your boss sees it – worse, if your boss hears about it from a customer – well that’s when the lines blur. Sure, you were on your own time, you’re an adult (maybe) and you’re not wearing any company logo wear (perhaps). But your profile says you work at XYZ company, your friends know you work there and (here’s the kicker) your parents’ friends know you work there. If you’re out acting like an imbecile and it gets put on social media, then the customers who frequent the yogurt shop, ad agency, law firm, whatever, at which you work, are going to associate you – an employee of that company – with imbecile-like behavior and that could hurt the bottomline of your employer – and could come back to bite you in your own bottomline.

It’s tough today, I get it. We live in tumultuous times with an unpredictable president, athletes making stupid mistakes, heated debates everywhere we look. What’s important to remember is that your actions – and your words – can reflect negativity out there, even if you don’t mean it that way. Put some good out there into the world… it would be better to have that connected to your reputation, right?

Be careful what you leave in your social footprint, because whether or not you agree with me that your online persona is a reflection of everything else about you, your boss (or future boss) may agree with me… and perceived reality is actually just reality.


Note that I attempted to find a photo of me in my cubicle, but couldn’t find one of just me and I don’t have permission to share photos of my former co-workers, so I went with a stock photo of people in cubicles. Also, I was 35 pounds heavier back then… there’s no need for those photos to be on the internet. 


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