This year is the first time for most of us that office Christmas parties are back with a bang. Following two festive season duds due to COVID-19, we’re back and ready to let our hair down and post about it all over social media.

Before we do that though, let’s take a look at what can go wrong if your social media posts reach people, you’d rather didn’t see them. Take Sky News host Chris Smith for example, who is currently suspended from his Australian anchor post due to what is being described as “inappropriate conduct” at the company Christmas party. He’s now got a lot of work to do to claw back his personal and professional reputation.

Office parties can be a hot spot for the kind of behaviour that could backfire on you, whether it’s drinking too much and getting into an argument to sharing a photo of others that wasn’t meant for the light of day.

Social media accounts and your reputation

Evidence shows that office parties are a danger zone for potentially damaging your reputation. It’s not so much what happens these days, as where it’s shared online. We conducted our own research and asked 1000 workers about their experiences of Christmas parties past.

Most people manage to get through their office parties without too much drama, but 20% of respondents admit to having been involved in arguments or fight. A further 11% say that they or one of their colleagues has been disciplined for bad behaviour during the party, while one in five felt that their personal reputation had been damaged by their antics.

And all of this is without adding social media posts into the mix. While much of the dodgy behaviour used to be hidden behind the closed door of the party, these days photos and comments will undoubtedly leak online via someone’s social media.

This is why your social media posts matter so much

Everything you’ve ever posted online is still there, including old social media accounts, blogs, comments and Tweets. Should someone really want to find out what you say online, it wouldn’t be too tricky with some basic search skills.

And, should something you post go viral or catch people’s attention, deleting the original post won’t help you. The chances are high someone somewhere has screenshot your comment and is sharing it on their feeds.

You may not be too concerned about this on a personal level, but what about the associated reputational risk for your employer? Most businesses simply don’t want to be linked with employees that are effectively loose cannons when it comes to posting online. There have been loads of recent examples of famous people losing their Twitter and Facebook accounts for various infractions – from Donald Trump to Kanye West, we can see what happens when people continually post divisive, inflammatory, damaging posts.

But are the risks that high for everyday non-famous people? Surely there can’t be a problem with posting Christmas party pictures of your colleagues being drunk? Well, it’s extremely unlikely that your employer will see it the same way. In the most basic terms, if your profile is linked to your real name and where you work, anything you post could reflect poorly on your employer.

And it’s not just about your current role only. Everyone needs to be aware that recruiters today routinely seek out candidates’ social media accounts to see what they’re like off the clock. Therefore, your posts could feasibly impact your career development in future.

Tighten security on your social media accounts

The first step to take when protecting your own online reputation is to beef up the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Lock Facebook down and consider doing the same with Twitter. The more your curate your feeds and followers, the less opportunity there is for something you post to damage you or your employer in some way.

All major social media accounts have watertight privacy settings so take some time to check yours. The best way to test this is to search your name on Google and see what comes up – if there’s anything that is obviously linked to you that could be a problem, lock it down and clean it up.

Here are a few more tips on social media management that will help to make your reputation stays intact.

How to manage your social media feeds

  1. Be careful with personal content

We would always advise keeping Christmas party photos off your feed, and any other occasion where there are obviously drunken people. This is particularly important when it comes to employers checking your feeds – if you have just applied for a job and want to get it, you don’t want the possibility of them searching through your party pictures.

Similarly, if you have links to personal sites, such as OnlyFans, then this could backfire too. Take this nurse, for example, who lost her job after her OnlyFans account was uncovered by colleagues.

  1. Don’t criticise your employer

This may sound rather obvious, but we would strongly advise keeping opinions about your work to yourself, rather than sharing them via social media. It can be so tempting to vent on Twitter about colleagues or even your boss but remember that it’s also visible to those people. The best rule of thumb is simply to not post these kinds of opinions online at all, even if you mean it in a light-hearted way. Unless you are whistleblowing for a higher cause, we also advise not posting any behind-the-scenes photos at your workplace as well.

  1. Step back from contentious subjects

Social media today is a morass of hot takes on fast-changing flash points, usually revolving around politics or social commentary. And while it’s satisfying on occasion to comment on your exact thoughts, it’s best to be careful before giving your opinion. Otherwise, you run the risk of being pigeon-holed by all kinds of people who will judge you for what you say online.

  1. Choose your forum

There are ways to carefully use social media as an outlet for your opinions and thoughts, of course. Just be careful which platform you choose. For example, if you have locked your Facebook profile down tight, there is likely little harm in using that channel to express your views.

However, you will want to be more careful with Twitter and LinkedIn. The latter, in particular, has become far more active in terms of sharing content over the last few years. This has led to ill-advised rants and philosophical musings from users that have backfired on them.

It’s not a problem to have a personality online, and we’re not suggesting you completely opt-out. But just be fully aware of the platform’s audience. For example, ensure your LinkedIn is professional, friendly, and non-committal. Stay away from politics or indulging in long-winded posts and you should be able to maintain a professional relationship that will help you, rather than hinder you.

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