Pallavi Pinakin presents a guide on how to stay safe online in your workplace

Gone are the days when social media was a pleasant diversion – an indulgent pastime for slow days and long weekends. This is the age of ‘always connected, as it happens, fully real’ social media interaction. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, our preferred platforms are always calling out to us with pings and beeps from our laptops, tablets, smartphones and even watches.

And as we spend more and more time online, more people are reprimanded or fired from their jobs for inappropriate (online) behaviour. It is widely known that privacy on social media networks is largely an illusion. Their policies change frequently, there are all manner of caveats and most people don’t pay enough attention to the privacy settings.

In spite of this, many of us continue to treat these very public platforms as private journals or intimate conversations. We use them to rant about work, complain about terrible bosses, express controversial opinions or post updates… all of this while we’re meant to be working.

The good news is that it’s not difficult to be a smarter social media user. Here are some points to keep in mind so that your online shenanigans don’t derail the career you’ve built.

POST CAUTIOUSLY Millennials leave an endless trail of virtual breadcrumbs – clues to each and every moment of their lives. This has resulted in many a tongue-lashing around the world, as bosses have begun to realise that stomach aches and sick days are often simply an excuse for an impromptu road trip that is given away unwittingly through an Instagram picture or a Foursquare check-in.

Such updates have become almost automatic for many of us and it takes a conscious effort to ‘go quiet.’ It’s also important to alter your Facebook settings to ensure that any post in which you’re tagged requires your approval before it is permitted on your timeline. This will prevent those embarrassing party photos from turning up unannounced in all your colleagues’ newsfeeds the next morning!

KEEP IT PRIVATE Yes, perhaps in an ideal world, everyone should be allowed unrestricted freedom of speech, with no impact on their jobs. But that’s simply not how it works in real life.

So if you’re about to post something controversial, think about it for a minute – would you be comfortable saying it aloud in front of your boss and colleagues? Could your organisation have a fundamental problem with this view?

This is particularly relevant when it comes to sensitive subjects like politics, religion and family. If you really need to rant, create an anonymous blog and use it as a space to vent your feelings. Better still, go old school – buy a diary and write in it!

LIMITED FRIENDS If you have strong views and find it important to express them online, nip the problem in the bud by not adding colleagues and managers to your social media circle. You can also secure your privacy settings to make your account and posts ‘private’ rather than ‘public.’ And ensure that the public elements of your profile (such as your photo and description) are appropriate; remember that anyone can see them if they search for you.

COMPANY RULES Too many working people are woefully unfamiliar with their company’s guidelines on online behaviour. This is mostly the organisation’s fault – the relevant documents may be sent across, along with a bunch of other instructions, on an employee’s day of joining and never mentioned again.

As an employee however, it’s important for you to take a proactive approach and run through any existing guidelines; otherwise, you may end up flouting the online code of conduct without even knowing it. Your ignorance may not prevent punishment; because the organisation can claim that it provided you with the information.

UTILISE LINKEDIN Finally, a platform that is actually meant for work! Even though LinkedIn is expressly meant for professional networking, too many people make amateurish mistakes that can cost them a future job. For instance, having a photograph is a must, else potential recruiters might suspect that your profile is fake or inaccurate.

Profiles with photographs are a whopping seven times more likely to be viewed than those without. You must also pay attention to what your picture says about you. For instance, if you want to work in a profession like medicine or an industry such as security, then a picture with an alcoholic beverage in your hand is definitely the wrong way to go!

Your photograph should convey energy, competence and authenticity, and be a recent photo. Finally, if you’re looking for a new opportunity while still working in your current job, remember to manage your privacy settings appropriately.