(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Don't Lie, Don't Pry
Don't Cheat, Can't Delete
Don't Steal, Don't Reveal
This is the social media policy of Farris Timimi, M.D., medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. It appears the Mayo Clinic can cure more than just health problems. This is a brilliant policy that you should adopt, regardless of your company's own approach to handling social media. (And far too few companies have coherent policies, anyway.)
Even if you think you are blogging/tweeting anonymously, you're not. More than one blogger has lost his or her job after being exposed. Dr. Timimi's advice is specifically directed toward health care workers, who are governed by privacy laws, but we should all act as if we were subject to such rules. If it's at all possible to recognize who you're talking about, the things you write need to 1) be 100 percent truthful; and 2) Nice.
Now, I know that nice doesn't sell. (Okay, it sells on Pintrest, but only if you have cool pictures to go along with it.) People like snark. Heaven knows I've made a living on snark. But I don't say anything online that I wouldn't say in the "real" offline world. If you wouldn't say it off the Web, stick to the nice.
When using material you found on the Internet, you must give credit to every source. It's not free just because you read it online. If you want to quote a short segment, link back. If you want to include an entire post from someone else on your blog, you must get their permission. Those rules you learned about citing references in your high school English class still apply. Granted, you don't have to write out a full reference, but if someone else thought it up, you need to link it.
You also must assume that everything you put on the Internet will cross your boss's desk. If you don't think your boss would like what you have to say, you post it at your own risk. Yes, there is still free speech, but that only applies to the government, not to a private business. If you start bashing your company's products or saying how great a competitor is, you will probably find yourself unemployed.
Dr. Timimi says that "anonymity is really gimmicky." I agree. Posting under your real name keeps you from going off the deep end. If you are willing to own up to what you say, then you won't run into problems when you are "found out."
Social media can certainly be helpful to your career. Don't let it be harmful. Memorize the 12 words up top and read Dr. Timimi's full post. Let it that be your guide as you live in the world of social media.