When social media slip-ups bite

It didn't take long for call centre manager Shona Mackin to discover that one of her subordinates had been telling porkies.

The employee was claiming Work Cover after a motorcycle accident he said happened on the way to work. The man requested light duties and was working just two hours a day due to lingering pain in his arm.

But then a photo of him dangling from a tree branch – suspended by the arm in question – was posted on Facebook, and landed on the boss's desk.

When approached, he resigned and dropped the worker's compensation charges, she says.

“The team got sick of covering for him and presented me with the photos. The guy knew he was taking us for a ride and the reality was, when he was outed by his teammates, he was pretty keen to get out of that environment,” says Mackin, who has since moved on to a new job herself.

Plenty of Australians have made a social media faux pas that has hurt their professional reputation.

For some, it has been a Facebook comment in poor taste, possibly posted after a few drinks. Or, worse still, a photo of inappropriate behaviour that was shared around the office.

It's important to keep tabs of your online reputation. Try a quick Google search occasionally to see what first impressions a potential employer would discover about you.

There's no place in a professional workplace for careless behaviour in the digital age, says Lucio Ribeiro, a senior strategist of The Online Circle.

“While companies can't dictate what staff do or don't do with their personal usage of social media sites, they can and should educate and have clear guidelines in place,” he says.

If you do put your foot in it, it can be extremely hard to permanently remove a post from Facebook or Twitter.

If necessary, you can click here https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/164734?hl=en to ask Google to remove a page or site, Ribeiro says.

Google also offers a resource called Me On The Web, where you can search and set up alerts here http://www.google.com/settings/me.

Another step is to buy the website domain of your own name, he says, to ensure no one else can set up a website that purports to represent you. This is particularly relevant if you are in a high-profile position.

Even if you do manage to delete a social media post, the impact can live on, warns Amber Daines, the director of PR firm Bespoke Communications.

“The media can also find your posts these days and reprint or repeat them in articles or on air, so it is far better to think before you Tweet, as they say.”

Understanding the purpose of each social networking site is vital, she says.

“You can get away with witty banter and funny pictures on your personal Facebook page because that's what it's originally intended for. However, doing that to your LinkedIn profile will spell disaster to your career, so always separate your professional and personal contacts. If a work colleague insists on adding you to their Facebook list, it's a good idea to create a separate group for your friends, colleagues and family,” Daines says.

Bear in mind that someone might have taken a screenshot of your post before it was deleted, meaning it can "go viral" and live on for virtual eternity, says Vicki Daniel, co-founder of leadership firm Change 2020.

If you do feel you've put your foot in it, get an independent view from a mentor or colleague on how bad a post really is, recommends Daniel.

“If someone makes a comment on social media, they should be prepared to stand by it. If they made a mistake, they should hold up their hands and admit it.”

Leave the negative tweet published, tweet again admitting the error and tweet an apology or the correct information, she recommends.

“The old golden rules apply. Don't write anything on Twitter that you wouldn't say face-to-face, and don't post photos on Facebook that you wouldn't want your grandma to see,” Daniel says.