Facebook Business Etiquette: Why You Shouldn't Friend Your Boss

Last Updated Feb 16, 2011 1:01 PM EST


We've all heard of, or perhaps lived through, an embarrassing Facebook misstep. An incriminating photo, perhaps a vent that went a tad too far. And while knowing how to save your job after a Facebook screw up is smart info to keep handy, just as important is avoiding the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn faux pas in the first place. According to a new handbook on business etiquette for the digital age, more than three quarters of H.R. folks say a technology etiquette misstep can be a career killer.

Here are a few truths about work and social media sites to keep in mind to avoid damaging your career:
  • Your boss probably doesn't want to be your Facebook friend (and neither does your client). Your boss may be all about creating a collegial and supportive work environment, but that doesn't mean she wants to friend you on Facebook. According to staffing firm Robert Half, which produced the new handbook, only 10 percent of bosses said they would be "very comfortable" friending their direct reports. Another 27 percent of bosses squirmed that they would only be "somewhat comfortable" to have that social network connection (similarly, 15 percent of the executives surveyed said they would be "very comfortable" with having their boss friend them, and 23 percent said they'd be "somewhat comfortable" with this).

And if you're in the B2B space and wondering if it's a good idea to friend a client, well, err on the side of no. Only 33 percent of execs seemed to have any sense of comfort with the prospect of connecting on Facebook with clients. Of course, this may be an industry-specific sort of thing -- if your job is in the digital world, not connecting could be the bigger mistake, but for everyone else, discretion on who you friend is the better career move. Here's how executives surveyed by Robert Half rated their comfort level with being friended on Facebook:


  • If you friend co-workers on Facebook, they should become your primary audience, not your friends. It's no longer about what you want to share with friends and family; it's about what inappropriate fodder you might be divulging to colleagues. "Maintain full business acumen" is the handbook's advice. According to the etiquette masters that means no poking; it's far too personal. And always ask before you tag a colleague in a photo; perhaps they don't want their boss to see how much fun they were having at the conference you both attended.

The handbook gives a thumbs up to including a demure profile picture on Facebook as it "adds legitimacy." One caveat is that any woman who thinks she might be in the market for a new job anytime soon might want to skip the Facebook or resume photo if there's any reason to think your good looks might cause some jealousy among the resume screeners.


  • On LinkedIn, less is more. Do you suffer from "network envy," the insatiable desire to have more LinkedIn connections than your archrival sitting in the adjacent cubicle? Get over yourself. Good business etiquette says it is smarter to focus on quality over quantity. That is also a smart way to avoid falling victim to a "hyper networker" who wants to data mine your profile info and that of your friends'. If you do have a distant connection asking you for an introduction to someone else in your network, it bears mentioning to think twice before you say yes. It's your rep you're putting on the line for someone you don't even know.

As for LinkedIn Dos, if there's someone you really want to connect with, make sure you write a quick personal invite rather than a generic message so as to get off on the right foot. Once you have connections, remember the whole idea is to keep cultivating your network. So share industry news, or a good article or blog post you think your network would appreciate, and might not have already seen. And be sure to respond back to any connections that have shared links or information.


  • Study the tweeting habits of your Twitter "Twibes." Twitter can indeed be a great professional tool, if you figure out how to connect and effectively communicate with the right people. Use the Twitter search function to look for other folks in your line of work ("twibes" is Twitter-speak for groups with similar interests). Then just be an observer for a while to figure out how people in your industry use Twitter. The etiquette police recommend using services such as TweetDeck to make it easier to follow along. One of the best ways to ingratiate yourself to someone you'd love to suck up to is to retweet their posts. Once you start tweeting yourself, limit your tweets to useful actionable advice or information that your business connections will actually value. And don't feel compelled to follow everyone who follows you; it's worse form if you end up wanting to unfollow someone later.
  • Put down the device in meetings. This is one of those 'do as I say, not as I do' mismatches. The etiquette police make the obvious point that checking any device during a meeting is really bad form, yet 45 percent of marketing executives surveyed by Robert Half said they text, email, or web surf during teleconferences. Only 19 percent say they never succumb to such bad behavior. Look, you know what flies in your own office culture, but even if everyone's thumbs are a blur during meetings, don't think your boss isn't going to be peeved if he turns to you and asks for your input, and you've got no clue what's going on. That sort of thing adds up over time. No matter what sort of rock star you think you are, annoying the boss is always bad form.
Images courtesy of Robert Half

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