In the past few years, I have been working on expanding my writing and editing career, and one great way to do that is by developing a solid professional social media presence. Perhaps the most important platform is LinkedIn, a service for professional networking and career development.
After researching how to improve my LinkedIn profile and tweaking my information, I began spending more and more time there, reading posts, sharing articles, and engaging with people in the fields of freelance writing and editing. However, I was often surprised to see behavior from some who seemed extremely professional based on their profiles that was, well, rather unprofessional. To be honest, shockingly unprofessional at times...
This behavior I’ve observed not only on LinkedIn but also on other social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, really got me thinking about the importance of professionalism and first impressions.
First impressions are everything
The Internet has become the main medium of business communication. When people are searching for what they want and need, whether they are your potential customers, clients, or partners, your digital presence, such as a website and social media accounts, will play a huge role in influencing their decisions.
(And if you think that it’s not that important, I’d suggest reading about a 2018 CareerBuilder survey on the potential impact of social media on your career.)
With every single social media post, comment, or interaction being a potential first impression for the next customer or client, why are professional people behaving so unprofessionally?
Social media is part of modern life now
For many of us, for better or worse, our personal social media has become an essential part of our daily lives. Some might even say it is an addiction. We check in with our first cup of coffee, regularly check in throughout the day, and take just one more quick look before we turn off the lights at night.
One of the reasons we check so often is that we are afraid of missing out, that something out there is happening that we don’t know about. And related to that, there is a desire to share new and interesting content, a need to IMMEDIATELY post something that excites or shocks us.
And especially during the COVID-19 pandemic social media has become even more of an honest extension of who we are and how we communicate with family, friends, and the world.
However, because of that immediacy, honesty, and non-stop interaction, we often become more impulsive and casual with what and how we communicate, developing some potentially “bad habits” when it comes to social media.
Habits are hard to break
From what I’ve observed, it seems that many people have a difficult time avoiding those “bad habits” when engaging with professional social media.
Looking at a definition of “habit” from the Cambridge Dictionary explains it all:
Of course, habits are hard to break, but with real money on the line, these are habits we can’t afford in our professional lives.
Recognize any of these in your professional social media behavior?
Grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes
“Really? It’s just a missing comma!”
As a freelance writer and editor, I follow many people in the same field, and I wince every time I see these kinds of mistakes by my fellow professionals.
Look, I know it’s not fair, but the brutal reality is that people will judge you by how you write. Readers will think, “If this person won’t take the time to produce an error-free social media post, or worse yet, can’t, why should I trust them with my business and money?”
It took me a long time as a writer to come to terms with this, but when you make mistakes in your writing, people automatically have a negative reaction, and even worse, a negative perception of you, including your intelligence, education, ability, and skills.
You simply cannot have these kinds of errors in your text.
Use a spellchecker; use Grammarly; or better yet, hire me as a proofreader.
Sometimes it’s more than just a little mistake
Recently, while scrolling through LinkedIn, I saw that a friend, a company executive, had shared a link to an article and written a short text about it. I started to read, but in the first line, there was a punctuation error that created some confusion about whether he agreed or disagreed with the article.
This one small error completely derailed his heartfelt and informative post.
I “diplomatically” messaged him and pointed out the problem and how to correct it. (OK, to be honest, I made fun of his grammar skills, too, but we go way back.) He was grateful and said something to the effect of “Yeah, that happens sometimes. I really need to be more careful...”
First impressions count. Every time.
Picking a fight
In our personal social media, we are often too quick to criticize or attack someone or a point of view we disagree with. We know we shouldn’t, but it seems impossible to resist.
However, if you were at a professional networking event and joined a group of people having a conversation, would you start arguing and insulting someone in the group that you disagree with?
Imagine the awkward silence, the sidelong glances, and raised eyebrows. Imagine what they would think of you...
Why on earth would you do that in the professional context of social media?
Of course, this seems obvious, but I have seen countless cases on Twitter and LinkedIn where an online discussion becomes heated and the gloves come off. Nobody wins.
It’s fine to disagree with others, but you need to find a diplomatic and constructive way to engage. Otherwise, you’re doing nothing but burning bridges and looking bad.
Posting from the hip
As I mentioned before, social media is designed to create buzz, to gather attention. There is a competition to be the first to post the newest thing. All this can cause us to react impulsively with a quick share or post.
Don’t. Do. This. With. Professional. Social. Media.
In the above example, if you do choose to engage with someone you disagree with, step back, take a deep breath, and really consider what it is that you want to say. If you need to, do the research to back up your position. Write out your response, and read it carefully. And above all, seriously consider if it is worth it compared to any potential negative fallout.
Basically, with all your professional social media engagement, don’t rush to click the “Post” button.
If you find an article headline that looks interesting, read the article first.
If you discover a great post from a new influencer you’d like to share, check out their profile first.
Your professional reputation is on the line.
Complaining about your job, clients, or customers
The other day on LinkedIn, I saw a post from a translator badmouthing a nameless potential client, complaining about being turned down for a project based on a submitted translation test without any feedback as to why. Other people joined in with similar negative comments.
Of course, I don’t know why the translation wasn’t good enough nor why no feedback was given. Maybe there was a better candidate? Maybe there were too many submissions to respond to everyone? Maybe it’s company policy?
But what I do know is that there is a good chance that the company and others like it will see that post. Like any well-connected industry, people talk and word gets around. I’m pretty sure the translator is even less likely to be considered for the next project.
A better choice would have been to frame it as a general topic for the community and ask for responses from translators and clients alike:
“I’d like to get your thoughts and opinions on an issue in our industry. For translators: Would you like to get feedback on translation tests, even if you don’t get the project? Why or why not? For clients: Would you like to give feedback on translation tests, even if you choose another translator? Why or why not? How could we, as a group, work together to improve the process?”
In this way, you could ignite a discussion that would help others and position yourself a leader and uniter, not as a complainer.
Posting too much during work hours
With our laptops and smartphones in hand, it is now easier than ever to be online all the time. That can be a good thing in terms of business and productivity, but it can easily become a problem. It’s important to remember that one reason “free” social media platforms are able to offer as much as they do without charging is that they have figured out how to “monetize our eyeballs.” Their whole system is designed to keep you on and engaged with their website or app.
Remember the CareerBuilder survey I mentioned before?
Of the more than 1,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals surveyed, 70% reported using social media platforms to research candidates. In addition, 12% said that “posting too frequently” was one reason for not hiring a potential client.
Remember: while you may not think you have a problem, others are watching and judging.
Err on the side of caution
Obviously, this does not mean that you have to become extremely rigid and cautious with your professional social media. We are all human, and our personalities will and should come out in how we engage with others.
However, with our professional reputations on the line and for all the world to see, we would be wise to keep the above points in mind as the Internet becomes more and more enmeshed in the world of business.
If you take one thing away from this blog post, perhaps the most important might be to remember to always take a moment and think before pushing that button.
Originally from Ohio, USA, Bailey is an experienced freelance writer and editor, especially for technical and scientific content. With an MA in English and a background in science, he also has more than 20 years of experience in teaching English around the world.