5 Dos and 5 Don’ts for Feds Using Social Media

According to Statista, the percentage of the US population with a social media profile increased from 10% in 2008 to 79% in 2019. Although growth has been leveling off in recent years, the fact remains that most of the US has some sort of social media profile. Given those numbers, it’s also not surprising that the intersection between personal and professional lives on social media has resulted in both opportunities and pitfalls. And they are not going away anytime soon.

More often than not, articles about social media and federal employees include the long list of what not to do. We thought a more balanced approach would be to share some of the opportunities along side the pitfalls.

DO: CREATE A PROFILE ON LINKEDIN

Unless you are prohibited by your employer (for example due to your security clearance or position), consider creating a professional profile on LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be a great resource for professional networking. Check out this article for more details on setting up a strong profile. NB: Don’t be one of those people with a barren profile (just name, agency, title, and a handful of professional contacts). Better to not be on at all than give the appearance you don’t understand this pervasive recruiting and networking tool. Set up your profile when you have the time and energy to craft it, and refresh it at least once per year.

DO: BUILD YOUR CONTACT LIST ON LINKEDIN

Don’t be shy inviting colleagues, fellow conference attendees, college alumni, etc. to LinkedIn.  You can also “cold” invite individuals, especially if you include a good intro message. For example, writing something like, “I recently read your article on XYZ topic and enjoyed it. I work in a similar field and would like to connect on LinkedIn.” Adding a few sentences about why you want to connect is more likely to elicit a positive response.

DO: JOIN PROFESSIONAL GROUPS

Discussion groups on LinkedIn or Facebook that are professional in nature (think tips for IT Professionals, or your college alumni group) are a good way to keep up with industry trends or identify a subset of individuals who share your professional interests. Many of the groups are closed and you must “ask to join”, after which a moderator will review your request before accepting or denying your membership. Steer clear of potentially contentious, negative, or degrading groups that may drag you down just by virtue of being a member. Unsubscribe if the discussion is not what you signed up for.

DO: FOLLOW YOUR AGENCY AND YOUR SECTOR ACROSS SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS

Most federal agencies have a social media presence. Even the intelligence agencies are Facebooking, Tweeting, and Instagramming (check out the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency).

Following what your agency is promoting to the public across its multiple social medial channels (and sometimes multiple agency accounts on each medium!) will help you stay up-to-date on your agency (especially on work outside of your immediate area). Share posts that speak to you with your networks to promote the good work your colleagues are doing. Don’t forget to follow associations, businesses, publications, news sources, and others in your professional space to keep on top of trends and hot topics.

DO: CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS AND LOG OFF

Treat your social media passwords like your checking account password: change it frequently and don’t forget to log off when you are not using it. Also, keep abreast of your privacy settings (for example do you want strangers to see all your Facebook posts, probably not). Check out this piece for info on privacy settings for each social media platform.

And now some Don’ts

DON’T: USE PERSONAL SOCIAL MEDIA DURING THE WORKDAY OR ON WORK EQUIPMENT OR ON YOUR OFFICE WIFI

‘Nuff said, and we would say this goes for all sectors (not just the federal sector). If you want to know more about the ins and outs of checking on your personal smartphone using your personal data plan during breaks, look for your agency’s social media policy and be mindful of the Hatch Act (see below).

DON’T: VIOLATE THE HATCH ACT

Enacted in 1939 to limit political activities by federal employees, the Hatch Act has gotten more name recognition in the last few years, no doubt due to the increased prevalence of social media usage, as well as more coverage of the Act in the news.The Hatch Act is enforced by The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and they have published a useful chart covering what federal employees can and can’t do on social media in keeping with the Act. NB: Some personnel fall under the category of “Further Restricted Employees” and are subject to additional rules under the Hatch Act. Visit the OSC site for more information.

DON’T: COMMENT AND SHARE INDISCRIMINATELY

Social media has a very long half-life, possibly longer than radioactive material. Keep this in mind as you follow, like, and comment. Will those posts come back to haunt you during a security clearance update or job change? Avoid criticizing your agency, boss, or co-workers online. Posted something you wish you hadn’t a while back? Go back and delete it.

DON’T: ACCEPT STRANGERS AS FRIENDS

While someone who writes to you on LinkedIn and explains why they want to connect (and also has a background that matches) is probably ok to accept, beware of strangers and long lost friends on Facebook. Check out this piece on How to Spot a Fake Friend Request.

DON’T: GIVE THE IMPRESSION YOU ARE WRITING IN AN OFFICIAL CAPACITY ON YOUR PERSONAL SOCIAL MEDIA

Be sure you make clear your online opinions are yours, and not those of the agency where you work.

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