Can social media and being public mix when you have to work for a living?
July 27, 2012 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Can social media, humor, and being public mix when you have a job?

Paranoid Pete here. I have, or I should say had, FB, Twitter accounts (deleted the Twitter). Once I get going, I like to be immature with my humor. The humor isn't racist, arrogant, or abusive. More like 12 year old fart humor quips, etc. However, the problem is that I like hearing from others--kind of a social release per sey, so for example my Twitter went from private to public and immediately I got responses because I made others laugh too.

The problem is that once I get going with the humor and boredom at work sets in, I commit the cardinal sin and then start using social media at work. I know, I know, STUPID. However, it's also a creative outlet for me since I get stressed out, bored, and anxious. At work there is zero creativity, humor, logic, etc. So I deleted my account fearing that I would get fired since we have a limited amount of people with clearance to use social media. And it's not just this job, but if I think about it, any job after a while. Work is about work, serious, etc. and well, I just can't that from 9-5 all the time.

But now there is a void of creativity, having fun, feeling less stressed while at the same time, I'm absolutely paranoid about showing up to work tomorrow thinking that me posting within the last two days is going to get me fired. Again, I never post about my job, anything offensive, some NSFW language but I'm also not sexting or anything like that (swearing, immature humor). I have since deactivated Twitter including deleting a lot of the tweets. For FB, that has always remained private access but I do post at work although less humorless (more like sharing links, commenting on friends' posts). All of my friends know my humor so it's not like I feel like I have to be funny 24/7 for them. But with Twitter, I noticed immediately it was all about connecting and laughing with strangers.

So here it is 2 am and I'm freaking out I'm going to get fired. But at the same time I'm also burned out to the max where the social media gives me a release and makes me feel human again. I don't have a problem being private for FB but with Twitter it seems pointless to be private when the goal is to just talk to various people and connect with humor.

And no, I don't want to join a comedy club or some Second City troop. In reality, I'm funny in my writing and once you really get to know me. Verbally and in a stage/public setting, probably not. The situation is more like I rather be a writer at Comedy Central than to be Jon Stewart but honestly, that would never happen so I resort to my Twitter.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you using your smartphone or the company computer for this?

I'm doing the exact same thing you are, but I'm doing it on AskMeFi.

Unless you're giving your employer some reason to suspect that you're misusing company resourses or time, I wouldn't worry too much.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:06 AM on July 27, 2012

Yeah, if you're tweeting at work with your AnonymousAtWorkOfficialWorkTwitterAccountName from your work PC at things like "LOL Butts" then yeah, stop doing that.

If you're using your cellphone to tweet with your AnonymousJokePersonalFunTimesAccountName, then I'd say you're fine. Unless you do it to the point where your actual work suffers and you're not getting done what you need to get done.
posted by Grither at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can't speak to how it'll impact where you work now, but I can tell you that when I interview candidates, I search social media to see what they have out there, and stuff like this would count against you.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:22 AM on July 27, 2012

Most companies have policies about "social media use" but these pretty much only apply to things that affect them. So there's two main possible issues:

1. Wasting time. If you're a receptionist or a construction worker who's busy tweeting instead of talking to people and building things, then that's a problem. This ties in to using the company computer - some places care, some places (e.g. in the tech industry) don't care at all as long as you aren't using it to run your side business.

2. Making the company look bad. When you talk about people being "authorized to use social media" I think that may be a policy that you're a bit confused about. You are not authorized to use social media as a representative of the company. Most policies are worded pretty open-endedly but, as a rule, if you have a blog about your cats, your company doesn't care. If you bring humiliation upon them, they are entitled to fire you - that is either by saying things about work they don't want you to say, or by getting sufficient negative attention in the media.

There's sort of a third in the form of creating a bad work environment - if you're making Polish jokes, your Polish co-workers will be pissed, similarly for women, Republicans, yadda yadda.

I guess the analogy I'd have is a "talking in public" policy - you are not authorized to talk in public by the company. But what that means is, they don't want you to go out there and pretend to give press releases, or tell everyone how (awesome or dumb) your boss is, or crack jokes about your job and/or employer as part of your open mic routine on Friday nights. But if you're cracking jokes about Aunt Millie or traffic, you should be good.

So the one thing I'd say is to avoid making jokes about work public; those should be kept to only your co-workers (and it's a tuning exercise to avoid insulting someone or demoralizing folks, but humor always is). If they're relatively anonymized then you're going to be fine, and honestly - 99.9% of the time - no one is looking, and no one cares. It's just when things come to their attention AND piss someone off that the policy gets whipped out.
posted by Lady Li at 8:26 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I tweet from work all the time from my personal phone on my personal account. I've not had a problem, but it really depends on your company's policies. Most actually don't care as long as you get your work done and there's nothing to tie you to the company. Did you get a specific warning from your supervisor that this was noticed? You're not clear on that in your post. Why are you freaking out?

If you don't want to be a performer, though, there are other options. You can write sketches. You might want to look into a sketchwriting class in your city.

Also, don't count improv out completely. You don't have to be "funny funny" to be a good improviser and you'll learn ways to make funny choices on stage.
posted by inturnaround at 8:27 AM on July 27, 2012

I've noticed many twitter bios contain something like "these opinions are my own and do not reflect my employer." Even if your name is not attached to the account, adding a disclaimer might not be a bad idea.
posted by troika at 8:31 AM on July 27, 2012

In general, I worry more about coworkers and work connections being facebook friends or twitter followers and what they will think of my posts, rather than the issue of social networking in the workplace.

I think that if your humor is racist, misogynist, or otherwise clearly offensive to the general public, it might be hard to avoid social blowback. Including workplace blowback or looking like a less attractive candidate in the hiring process.

If you want the protections that comedians get from social faux pas (it's a joke! it's part of the act! anonymous doesn't really believe that!), you're going to have to be an actual comedian, not just make a funny on twitter every now and again.
posted by Sara C. at 8:34 AM on July 27, 2012

A good rule of thumb is to not say anything on Twitter or Facebook that you wouldn't say in front of all your coworkers and clients.

If you have a goal of being funny on Twitter, use an account entirely separate from your identity. Totally anonymous. And never log into it on your work computer.
posted by k8t at 8:46 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Someone I work with has an extremely bawdy and often offensive Twitter account. She does it with no mention of her real name or where she works anywhere on it. It's known about at work but as it isn't connected to her professional life all is fine.
posted by mippy at 9:17 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it depends on a number of factors like:

How high up are you in the company?
How "public face" is your job for the company?
Is your twitter/fb account strongly associated with your real name and face?

As others said, are you doing this at work from your personal device or at work on your work computer?
People do get fired for things said on social media and do get fired for humor the company thinks is inappropriate. Two examples that come to mind: A teacher made a joke on fb about killing her students, presumably after a very frustrating day at work. She was fired. And Gilbert Gottfried got fired as the voice of the Aflac duck after he made a joke they felt was in poor taste even though he is a comedian by profession. I think that may have been on twitter but I am not sure.

Teachers are in a position of trust and Gottfried was a very public representative of the company. If you are the janitor and your twitter account is not associated with your real name or face, it is probably pretty low risk. Though this is not supposed to be a factor, I would also say it depends in part on how well you get along with people at work and how much you get noticed by others. I seem to get noticed no matter how hard I try to be a wallflower. If I wore something in violation of dress code, I was pretty quickly noticed by higher ups and crabbed at about it. Other women could show up routinely looking like hookers and apparently no one said a word to them about it. So I always felt like I had to tread lightly in all matters.
posted by Michele in California at 9:59 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

A teacher made a joke on fb about killing her students, presumably after a very frustrating day at work. She was fired.

If the humor you speak of could be in any way construed as you complaining about your job, saying negative things about your company/industry, or threatening violence no matter how obviously facetious, this is potentially a huge deal and a fireable offense.

It also just generally looks bad.

One of my facebook friends complains about his job constantly in status updates. At one point he worked in my industry and may still aspire to come back into this field. I could easily be in a position to hire him one day, or at the very least be asked to put in a good word for him. I would have a hard time doing that because of the degree to which he bitches about work on facebook. He's quietly burning bridges, and I have a feeling he doesn't even know he's doing it.
posted by Sara C. at 10:15 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since companies in the US can be sued for certain types of bad communications, they do have a reason to care what you post. They probably don't care about fart jokes, but they probably do have reason to care if you talk about how women or older people fart. This goes doubly if you're a supervisor and triply if you're using work equipment (which would include your cell phone if you get any reimbursement for it). Hopefully someone from HR can link you to more info on this, but at an HR training I attended, they told the story of someone making some bad comments on facebook. They didn't make them on work time, etc., but they showed this person's character and likelihood of making a negative comment to another employee. I can't remember exactly what happened in their example, but it was something like: someone flagged it to the company, so they kept tabs on the person until the behavior crossed into a sphere where the company could get in trouble (I think they made one non-bad comment on fb from work, but that showed a potential for them to eventually make a bad fb comment on work equipment), then the guy got in trouble.

So, in addition to just being diplomatic, I'd learn the areas of particular scrutiny and be particularly careful there. There are good trainings and handbooks that explain things you might not think of. (For instance, one I remember is that political affiliation is not protected but religion is, so you could diss "republicans" but not "the religious right.") IANAL, so don't take my word for it, but I think you're smart to be careful.
posted by salvia at 10:37 AM on July 27, 2012

Look up your social media policy. I too have a twitter account that is humour based. I don't use my real name and but I do have a photo. One of my bosses is on it and finds it amusing, but I would never add co workers to it (or my other boss). I say that I work in a law office, but nothing more. Should I be using my face - no probably not, but I don't even allude to the fact that I have twitter at work. It's none of their business.

You need to figure out what type of workplace you work it. If you keep it anon - no one can really trace it back (assuming you use your phone) and you are allowed to have social media.

Keep your account to your phone and home computer. Don't tweet about work (or more specifically WHERE you work) - don't have a prominent photo of your face and you'll be fine to tweet about dick and fart jokes.
posted by Danithegirl at 11:40 AM on July 27, 2012

If it is disrupting your sleep at 2am then likely you know that you are flirting with danger. One person can give anecdotes about how its all cool at their workplace and another may explain how it is career suicide but only you know the temperament in which you work. About the only solutions are to do a solid job of keeping it anonymous and non-work related in content or dial it down to a level where it doesn't wake you up at 2am.
posted by dgran at 12:14 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who used to do hiring in a past life, if your social media a) does not mention your workplace at all; b) doesn't complain about your chosen career beyond the occasional good natured gripe; c) isn't offensive (sexist, racist, etc), I wouldn't have a problem with it. Honestly if your posts were actually funny and well written it would help your chances.

I work in Creative, though, so your mileage and skillset may vary.
posted by jess at 3:52 PM on July 27, 2012

2nd Sara C. - I've sat in on the meeting that narrowed some candidates down to the one that will get the offer (in a non-voting, keep my mouth shut unless asked a factual question kind of way). Bitching about work all the time on FB and Twitter was definitely discussed, and I think cost someone a job. Hard to say they would have gotten the offer, but it was definitely in the "minus" column and non-trivial.

This person did not have anything linking their accounts to the employer. Nobody speculated that they were using company computers inappropriately. We just have a lot of people here who are media "friends" with each other, and stuff like that gets noticed.

So, fired? Probably not, unless you created a PR incident for the company. But it's making an impression one way or another if anyone knows about it. Decide if it's a good or bad impression - you know the company, not us. My bosses wouldn't care a bit about potty humor, for what that's worth.
posted by ctmf at 7:37 PM on July 27, 2012

Remember this? A teacher with previously glowing reviews was dismissed because her employers went online and found a photo of her drinking something from an opaque cup. The caption says "drunken pirate". There's nothing in the picture to indicate she was "drunk" (she looks a little flushed, but I probably look worse during completely sober dancing) and nothing to indicate the picture was taken during work hours.

I've been in a similar position as the teacher (as I've mentioned previously). I was lucky in that I knew I had not posted anything that could even be remotely considered grounds to fire me, but it was made pretty clear that if I continued to post, reasons to fire me would be found.

Someone above said "don't post anything online that you wouldn't say to your coworkers" - this doesn't begin to cover it. Conversations with coworkers are not recorded and easily searchable. It is unlikely one line of dialogue in your conversation with coworkers will be taken out of context and used against you by someone that was not there.

So unless you would mass-email your company with your Twitter update, don't post it with your real name.

Also, don't use your stuff during work hours. I bring my laptop in to use the open wireless at work (as opposed to company sign-in internet), but I only use it on hours that I am not "on the clock" as it were. I consider it unethically to "steal" company time (not saying I don't occasionally slip, but I do feel incredibly guilty when I do). there anything you can do about your job to get it to excite you? Maybe talk to your supervisor?
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:03 PM on July 27, 2012

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