At a glance
Updated 18 August 2023.
On the surface it seemed innocent enough: a man sharing a picture of his fussily laid out breakfast for all of his social media followers to see. Yet the shiny surfaces, specifically that of his silver teapot, revealed something he hadn’t planned to share – the fact that he was naked when he took the photo.
Social commentator David Meagher included the amusing anecdote about this unfortunate man in his 2016 book The A to Z of Modern Manners. It’s a cautionary tale of being careful about what you share on social media, and who you share it with.
It may be a laugh for your friends and family but the wrong kind of social media post can have wider implications, particularly if you’re Facebook friends with your boss.
From posting about that lovely trip to the beach when you had actually told work you were sick, to undignified comments and dishevelled nights out – social media is a minefield that could end up having explosive employment repercussions.
Michael Coates, Director/Intellectual Property, Industrial Relations and Defamation at Bennett and Philp Lawyers, has acted in a number of matters where employers have been unhappy or angered about what an employee has posted on social media.
Typically, the posts or comments could either be interpreted as being critical of, or reflect badly on the employer.
“I have been asked to advise the employer as to the employer’s rights to discipline the employee, and even whether they could terminate the employee,” Coates says.
“My advice is dependent on the circumstances – sometimes raising the matter informally with the employee and/or conducting training of employees in social media usage [is appropriate]. On other occasions, the advice … is to engage in a formal warning process.
"On a number of occasions I have advised the employer that termination is an option and termination has followed. Most simply, employees should be very careful about what they post on social media.”
Your personal social media strategy
Meagher believes it’s more about how you handle yourself and your social media accounts than hard-and-fast rules about connecting with your manager on social media.
“Familiarise yourself with the technology – that’s really important,” he says.
“Learn about how it works, don’t be afraid of it. [For Facebook] you can do things such as unfollow a person’s feed but stay friends.”
He also suggests changing your privacy settings so, for example, any friends’ tags need your approval before they appear on your posts. (Go to Settings, then Timeline and Tagging).
“That way, you’re comfortable with where you’re appearing,” he says.
For some, LinkedIn and perhaps Twitter are as close as they want to get to the boss on social media, but what if the person in charge asks to follow you on Facebook or Snapchat?
“You’re sort of caught a little bit; you kind of have to accept their friend request,” Meagher admits.
“But my mother follows me on Facebook and my teenage nieces follow me on Facebook – so you need to keep your profile pretty clean.”
Say no without causing offence
Social media strategist Debra Shepherd sees no intrinsic harm in connecting with your superiors on social media. You just have to give it some thought.
“We are wired to connect. Social media is social and I encourage people to connect with their colleagues and bosses, but you need a strategy,” she says.
“What are you posting? What language are you using? Is it appropriate?”
What’s her advice when the awkward situation arises where you don’t want to connect but you deal regularly with the person you are snubbing?
“If I were in that position I’d have an honest conversation with the person,” says Sinclair. “Say that you’d love to connect on LinkedIn but you save Facebook for family and close friends. That would certainly be OK.”
Perhaps there’s the rub. Face-to-face conversations may be the hardest ones but they can still achieve the most – even if they aren’t your cup of tea.