Our Digital Lives: 5 Lessons in Social Media

Our Digital Lives: 5 Lessons in Social Media

As a former banker and current instructor of international business for the Bachelor of Arts in International Business degree program at Ashford University, I have had the opportunity to work directly with a number of reputable international businesses. One day an administrator for one of my former financial employers, a large multinational financial institution, knocked on my office door and requested that I turn in all of the passwords to my personal social media accounts. 

As someone with a background in compliance, this request took me by surprise. The administrator specifically mentioned Facebook, and at the time I did not have a Facebook account (nor do I have one today), so I simply smiled and replied, "I don’t have a Facebook account or any of the other social media accounts mentioned.”

I went home and thought about the request and came to the conclusion that the employer was concerned about privacy issues and potential contact employees may have with their clients. Having worked on many compliance projects, I could see some of the objections from the employer’s viewpoint. After all, an employee with social network connections to customers could easily take the business with them and go to another employer.

However, I had thought the request for passwords to my personal social media accounts was a violation of my privacy and that it could even have been illegal. I also had heard of other financial employers prohibiting social media accounts. I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I should do.

That evening, I decided to close my LinkedIn account. The next day the same admin came back to my office and said, “We want all LinkedIn passwords," to which I honestly replied: "I have none."

A few years later, I gave a deposition in a bank fraud case for that former employer and found out that there had been a fake LinkedIn profile created in my name. I contacted LinkedIn to take it down, but they refused since I don't have or know the corresponding email linked to the fake account. Although I was not able to remove the fake account, I learned a great deal from the experience. 

Five Things to Consider

As an ongoing observer and former active participant in social media, I have compiled a short list of things to consider when it comes to safeguarding your online privacy, reputation, and personal brand, as well as keeping up with the trends and securing your career. Read on for five key things to keep in mind when using social media. 

1. Privacy 

This information may come as a surprise, but it is not illegal in all 50 states for employers to ask for their employees’ personal passwords or prohibit employees from using social media. In fact, the question regarding social media accounts sometimes comes up in interviews. You will need to decide ahead of time how you will answer the question should it arise. To help you make a more informed decision, you may want to review the latest legal information available, and keep that site bookmarked. 

2. Online Presence

Your online presence can be seen as a boon to your professional reputation, but it also can become a liability if not monitored and managed appropriately. Do a quick web search for “people fired due to misuse of social media,” and you’ll discover a flurry of reports regarding employees who lost their jobs for what they posted on social media. It also can prevent you from getting hired, according to CareerBuilder. Forbes.com also cited some specific scenarios that may help you understand the dos and don’ts. 

3. Social Media Change

Social media platforms are continually changing. It is important that you understand your privacy rights and user obligations. Keep in mind that social media channels evolve, and there will be different standards for rights/privacy and use around the globe. Think Facebook and its continuing privacy rights saga, and refer to this thorough TechRepublic piece on that issue.

4. Build Your Brand

Social media can be a powerful tool, particularly for an entrepreneur who is trying to launch a new idea or build a global business from the ground up. Take the time to learn how social media can help build your brand and business and understand the meaning of the underlying data/trends that social media can provide. Then, balance your understanding of the benefits of social media with the risks that it can pose to your reputation or business. 

5. Job Search

Research your future employer’s social media presence and understand how the business utilizes social media. Is it a marketing tool? Is it used to promote social responsibility projects? Is it used to connect with certain groups? If the social media question comes up, you can discuss the company’s activities and strategies. Remember that if you receive a job solicitation from a social media site, you need to check it out before responding. Although there are efforts to crack down on these scammers, you should still be on the lookout for fake profiles and know how to spot them

In today’s world, it is nearly impossible to avoid using social media. There are many benefits, but there can also be many pitfalls. It will be up to you to understand how using these platforms can help or hinder your career. Keep these five tips in mind as you pursue your business goals, and you’ll be on your way to safeguarding your online reputation and ultimately your future.


Written by Kathy Colquitt, Associate Faculty of the Bachelor of Arts in International Business program for the Forbes School of Business & Technology™ at Ashford University.

NCSL.org; State Social Media Privacy Laws; last retrieved 8/28/18 from

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