The growing need for a tact counselor

May 8, 2011

Social media









I wasn’t going to write this post. I hate coming off like the fun police or seeming Big Brotherish. To be frank, I thought we were done having this “the way you act online can alter your reputation and make it hard to get/keep a job” conversation.

But after talking to some people recently and seeing others’ social network profiles, it’s obvious their is a big-time need for a tact counselor, especially amongst young professionals. Sorry if that’s hard to hear, but it’s not surprising. Young pros have the least amount of professional work experience and many have been using social media for a long time as a personal communication tool. Heck, I’ve have had to work on several of these things over the past few years. Not No. 2 though. You’ll never see a picture of me in a bikini :) .

So, with that said, here are 14 online behaviors that could alter your reputation and make it hard to get/keep a job:

  1. Dropping a lot of F-bombs in your tweets or status updates. You may not like hearing this, but doing this can kill your reputation. You are not Gary Vanyerchuk. And saying you don’t have a filter is crap. Worst excuse ever.
  2. Posting a picture of yourself in a bikini as your avatar. C’mon people. Really? You think someone who’s going to hire you doesn’t look at your Facebook page and Twitter account? You think your current boss doesn’t? Think again. I have seen this as recently as a week ago. Happens more than you think.
  3. Tweeting inappropriate things about a guy or girl you think is “hot.” A college student who I know recently interned with a client. I was very impressed by her ideas and work ethic. Last month she followed me on Twitter. I looked at her profile and saw things she tweeted at 1 a.m. about a guy she saw at a bar. They were inappropriate enough that I won’t repeat them in this post. And I will never recommend her anywhere. Changed my whole impression. Now you can call me a square, but realize this. The majority of people think like I do on this issue. Put the phone away after midnight.
  4. Protecting your tweets. Nothing says “I have something to hide” like protecting your tweets. It’s a first impression thing. And I promise you it could be an issue when comparing job candidates.
  5. Posting drunk photos of yourself or pictures of yourself holding drinks. Woohoo, you drink. You are so cool. Not what an employer wants to see when they are researching their employees. You don’t have to avoid the topic of drinking. But I don’t need to see picture of you and your friends playing beer pong. Or even a picture of you and your friends hanging out holding beer bottles. Don’t make these pictures your avatar or prominent on your Facebook page. But also, don’t send them to potential employers. Which leads us to No. 6…
  6. Sending photos in with your resume and cover letter. Sorry, but it’s unprofessional. It says, you might choose me to work with your team because I’m attractive. If you’ve sent photos, that’s probably not what you’re trying to say. But that is what people think. And an employer is not legally allowed to hire someone because of their looks, so you put them and HR in an awkward situation. Not to mention, you are likely to become the joke of the hiring process at that company. And not the one who gets hired.
  7. Grammar and AP style. I once sent a cover letter to The Kansas City Star. I didn’t capitalize Star. Do you know what they did with my resume? Trashed it. I guarantee you. Do not let your good ideas and what you bring to the table be trumped by errors in your writing. Learn to write for Twitter and for a client deliverable.
  8. Avatars that don’t show your face. When people research your social networks, they don’t want to see a picture of your dog, or you in a costume, or a logo or something you photoshopped. Show your face and be professional. We don’t need the corny senior pic headshot. Just a picture of your face will do.
  9. Jokes that aren’t funny. Some jokes that might be taken one way offline come across differently online and are not funny. Don’t be filling your status update feeds with these borderline types of posts. Even though the person you wrote it to may laugh, others watching might not.
  10. Your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse drama. Have you ever seen someone post a Facebook status update that their boyfriend/wife/husband cheated on them and they are getting a divorce or breaking up? I have. I felt bad for the person. And the next thing I thought was what does their employer think if they read this post by an employee who represents the company — remember, their is no separating personal and professional online anymore. Not possible.
  11. Talking to different people the same way. I see way too many people address someone they are obviously good friends with online the same way they address another industry professional they have never met. You would never do that offline — I hope. Change your conversation style to fit who you are talking to. Don’t tweet “Hey, what’s up?” to someone you’ve never met before. Again, may be a generational thing, but I know some working professionals — especially in older generations — who would be offended by that.
  12. TMI via status updates. Here is a scenario I’ve seen several times. Person posts over weekend that they were hanging out with friends, checks in on Foursquare at several different bars throughout the night. Person comes to work on Monday and complains of being tired because they had a “long weekend.” This is one where it differs online and offline. You may be able to joke with certain colleagues you know well about your long weekend. But when you post what you were doing on Facebook for all to see and then complain Monday morning, you look kind of foolish. Especially to upper management, who likely are the decision makers at your company.
  13. To whom it may concern. Do not EVER write this in an e-mail or cover letter to a potential employer. If you do, you might as well write “I am too lazy to figure out the name of the person I am supposed to be sending this to so I just wrote To Whom it May Concern.” Most companies and agencies are never going to hire someone who does that.
  14. Acting one way online and another way in person. Not sure why people do this or if they do it consciously. But what’s important for you to know is that people notice. I can count at least five times in the last year when someone came up to me and said “You know, so-and-so doesn’t act at all like they seem online.” And usually, it isn’t a positive. Because it’s a situation where someone is extremely outgoing and engaging on Facebook, Twitter or their blog, but then struggles to manage the F2F part of the relationship. If you can’t interact with people F2F in a tactful way, it will hurt your career aspirations.

So much of this is just thinking before acting. And I promise you these are things you bosses or potential bosses think about and notice.

Five to 10 years ago, I would have read a post like this and thought the person who wrote it was lame or a brown-noser. And five to 10 years later, I can tell you that all these things listed matter, whether you and I think they should or not.

So what did I leave out? Is there anything on the list with which you don’t agree? Have any “tactless” stories for us?

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chemann1 6 pts

Hey Justin -

Lest you think I was only going to offer snark and sarcasm via other social channels about this post. :)

In all seriousness, I wanted to applaud your thoughts here but also note one thing - With some of these, the lines are most certainly gray, and not blank and white.

--Would I swear all of the time in a blog post or tweet? Absolutely not. Am I going to refrain from swearing in a blog post or tweet 100% of the time? Absolutely not. It's not who I am. I'm not going to embarrass my employer by swearing, but I'm certainly not totally censoring myself either. I think if I looked hard enough through some of my bosses comments, I'd find a cuss word or two. :) I'm sure you're not saying no swearing ever, just wanted to make the point.

--The talking to someone you've never met different than your best friends thing is also hard. Could just be me, but when someone who I don't know addresses me "formally" online I get kind of creeped out. I'm a person. Talk to me like a person. "Hey you" probably wouldn't be acceptable. "Hey Chuck, I've heard you're a really great dude and would love to chat sometime" works just as well as something formal in my book. Despite it not being true. ;-)

--I'm probably guilty of violating #3. You know what? I'm OK with that. Now, I'm not doing it every weekend. Or even multiple times a month. But, every once in a while, you'll see me commenting about the attractiveness of a woman I see out. Is that a problem? I don't think so. It probably means I'm a human being. I'll be respectful about it and not imitate the mating calls of an African gorilla while tweeting, but I will comment, generally, on someone's beauty (or lack thereof).

Anyway, that's a long way of saying the lines here are definitely blurry.

Good post, and shame on me for just now subscribing to your stuff. Long time listener, first time caller.

JGoldsborough 210 pts

chemann1 I agree there are rarely absolutes. And you've highlighted a few solid examples here. There are people who curse every now and then in a post or tweet and it actually can help get a point across. Then there are people I see dropping F-bombs daily for no reason. The latter is the one that will hurt you.

Good example on the formal stuff. And I'll disagree with you and maybe even go as far as to say you're too school for cool. Joking aside, this is the one I'll give on the most. But someone called to my attention once that certain people, especially in older generations, see writing, "Hey" or "Hey you" as disrespectful. That is one that may be changing quickly. But one we should consider.

On point three, I have no problem at all with you commenting on the attractiveness of a woman you see out. I have seen you do it and don't think it could be taken as disrespectful. Maybe at Blogworld I will actually tell you what this girl tweeted. But I promise you it was much, much more derogatory than what I've seen you write and something you would never tweet or say.

Always glad when you stop by. May the Facebook be with you :).

chemann1 6 pts

Good thing we aren't debating grammar and spelling in social media. ;-)

KellyeCrane 51 pts

Such important reminders, Justin. Rather than tact, I believe I would use another word for this skill: discretion. Being authentic is not the same as "letting it all hang out" - show some discretion, and your reputation (and career) will be the better for it. I have a rule for myself: don't drink and tweet/post. I highly recommend it! :-)

Here's one I'd add: don't link yourself too closely to your romantic interest online. @ messaging each other constantly, having a couple pic for every avatar, and/or listing your Google Talk status as "I love X" is generally a bad idea. Even if you do manage to live happily ever after, your relationships/identity become more complicated if it's a two-for-one package deal.

JGoldsborough 210 pts

KellyeCrane Ok, KC, this is why you are a rock star. Such a good call on the linking yourself to closely to your romantic interest. I have a friend who always posts Facebook statuses like "I have the most amazing wife in the world." Dude, really? That's great and all, but c'mon now.

Pink_Katillac 5 pts

Thanks for the tips, Justin! As much as Twitter has taught me about what to do when applying for jobs/networking, it has taught me just as much in what not to do. I'd even suggest creating an account solely for applying for jobs. That way if you MUST tweet your drama, you can do so in a personal account.

JGoldsborough 210 pts

Pink_Katillac Good thoughts. Shonali mentioned separate Twitter accounts and that is a smart idea. Just remember that employers can find your separate accounts too :).

Pink_Katillac 5 pts

Good point. Keeping your personal issues to yourself online is good practice for keeping them to yourself in the workplace, too. JGoldsborough Shonali

Shonali 869 pts

I really don't get the protected tweets thing. Because I react in exactly the same way; why are you protecting your tweets? If it's because you want to share personal tweets with a very specific group of people, then set up a different Twitter profile that is for that. But when I see a new Twitter follower with a protected timeline, particularly if they work in PR, 99% of the time I don't follow them back (or send a "request" to follow). The exception is if it's someone I know.

MichaelBittner 's point about political updates is a very good one. Unless one works in the political field, I see absolutely no reason for those. From what I've seen, they rarely lead to civilized interaction, and all that happens is that people of the same political persuasion will give it a "thumbs up," and everyone else will give it a thumbs down.

I'd add over-the-top posts on religion to the list. I respect the freedom everyone has to practice their own religion. But there's a difference in being free and proselytizing.

MattLaCasse 93 pts

Shonali MichaelBittner Totally agreed. There's two things that are off limits when I'm at happy hour: religion and politics. Everyone has their own beliefs about both and there's no need to debate them. I'm not above the occasional political tweet, though I try to keep those more informative or humorous than proselytizing. Same with religion. I have deep-seeded religious beliefs, but those remain private unless someone else inquires about them.

JGoldsborough 210 pts

MattLaCasse Shonali MichaelBittner Agree on the religious tweets. I know people don't mean for them to be offputting, but they often are. Another example of how your intentions matter less than the way you are perceived. No matter how unfair you think that may be, it's true.

MattLaCasse 93 pts

JGoldsborough Shonali MichaelBittner Yep. Time and place for everything. Shouting your religious beliefs indiscriminately from the Twitter-tops is not the place. If you're a pastor, that's one thing, and I get that. Something different if you're a professional communicator.

MichaelBittner 7 pts

JGoldsborough MattLaCasse Good point, Shonali , regarding how political tweets rarely lead to civilized discourse. They really do nothing except turn roughly half of everyone against you. That's why I could never be a political talk show host :)

Shonali 869 pts

MichaelBittner But just imagine all the swag you'd get! JGoldsborough MattLaCasse

JGoldsborough 210 pts

Shonali MichaelBittner MattLaCasse LOL, swag rocks :).

MattLaCasse 93 pts

JGoldsborough Is that some kind of pay for play from prsarahevans ? ;) Shonali MichaelBittner

kristybolsinger 6 pts

I think it's important to note the difference between individuals who work in the social and digital space and others in conversations like these. People outside of our bubble have a different set of circumstances than us. For example - many of the people I know outside would NEVER become friends with their boss on Facebook or even professional contacts. That's what LinkedIn is for.

That also changes the standards. For example - protecting your tweets becomes a completely different type of issue.

JGoldsborough 210 pts

kristybolsinger Good observation. Still, I think people trust Facebook privacy settings too much. Facebook changes things all the time and reverts settings back to default when they do. If you post something on your Facebook page, your boss or potential employer can and will find it if they want to. There is no separating personal from professional online anymore.

kristybolsinger 6 pts

JGoldsborough kristybolsinger I agree but that is a completely different observation in my mind. I do completely agree though that if you're putting it on the INTERNET you should be prepared for anyone, ANYONE on the internet to find it.

ShellyKramer 82 pts

Excellent. Add to that "learn to spell for Pete's sake - it's not THAT hard and it DOES matter" ... because oldies like me will throw out your resume and cover letter if you can't correctly use words like "your" and "you're" and "too" and "to."

And yes, everyone needs to see this. Not only youngsters.

Great job, J.



JGoldsborough 210 pts

ShellyKramer shellykramer Learn to spell is a huge one. And you're right on the reason why. If you misspell something, it doesn't say you aren't smart. It says you were too lazy to run spell check or look it up. And that is worse, IMO. Cheers.

MichaelBittner 7 pts

Great post here, Justin. Should be required reading for all college students.

An issue you did not mention is one I find hard to refrain from posting about: political issues. I think I've improved a lot, but it's not always easy. Politics is one of the three or four things you're not supposed to discuss at a dinner party, so I know that transfers online, as well.

JGoldsborough 210 pts

MichaelBittner Good call, Mike. Mentioning political issues in online or offline conversation is usually going to lead you to a bad place no matter how good your intentions are.

MattLaCasse 93 pts

The big one for me is your last point Justin. I'll never understand people acting one way online and another in real life. About the only difference in my online and offline personalities are that I may, or may not, swear something like a sailor in real life. I can neither confirm, nor deny, those allegations Senator.

That said, there's certainly a difference between knowing what situation you are in and behaving appropriately in that situation. That doesn't mean your personality changes, just the topics of conversation and/or your choice of words.

These are all great points, though I want to add one caveat to the post. Young professionals need to take every single piece of advice in this article, hands down. The one thing I would add is that at some point, you have to understand that you won't please everyone. Do not become someone you are not on your FB profile just to land a job. Notice Justin didn't advise you to scrub all the "fun" pictures from your profile. Just don't make them the banner pictures at the top of your profile. Be yourself, because in the end, many employers want someone that will do a bang-up job...but also someone who is a great person to work with and be around.

JGoldsborough 210 pts

MattLaCasse Great points, Matt. We help client brands manager their perception all the time, don't we? Some of us just need to work a little harder to manage our own image. But people do want to work with fun people. There is a difference between being fun and being the person who has pictures of themself playing beer pong on their Facebook page :).

Thanks for stopping by. Look forward to hearing some of those Sailorisms in June at the K.

MattLaCasse 93 pts

JGoldsborough You say that now. When your ears are burning, you may change your mind. ;)

dariasteigman 22 pts

Whew. I was worried about #2 for a minute there... Good list, Justin. I once had a young woman ask the "privacy" question about social media in a class. Then she followed me and her avatar was her, in a bikini, with a big drink in her hand. Sigh.

Hopefully a few people read this and adjust accordingly. It doesn't matter if any (or all) of these should make a difference -- it just matters that they do.

JGoldsborough 210 pts

dariasteigman Your last comment is the reason I wrote this post. I used to be the guy who said these things shouldn't make a difference. Then what I found out was, it doesn't matter if I think they should make a difference. They do. Cheers.


  1. [...] “should be filtering” themselves online. Fellow PR pro Justin Goldsborough wrote “The growing need for a tact counselor” that touched on how one should act online. Quite frankly, and probably to no one’s [...]