Staying Professional Online

By Victoria Vilas / 22 Sep 2016

Operations and marketing manager Victoria Vilas shares advice on maintaining an appropriate and professional profile on social media

When you enter your name into a search engine, what results do you get? If your search returns link to your social media profiles, then others could see the same, and may be tempted to click through and browse your comments or photos. In an era where people make careers from their social media presence, promoting brands and products to the many strangers that follow their life in photos, videos and blogs, a public social media profile is virtually a statement that you don’t mind people looking, or that you want people to look, at the content you post.

If that’s not the case, and you don’t wish for strangers to scroll through your social media profiles, then choose your social media channels wisely, and pay attention to your privacy settings. If you’re happy for some, or all of your content to be on show, then remember that it may not be just your family and friends scrolling through your Instagram photos and reading your tweets, it could be your patients, your colleagues, your employer, or other industry professionals, too.

If you are a medical professional, inappropriate content or conduct on social media could give you a bad reputation, alienate potential patients, attract the wrong target audience, or undermine your status as a trustworthy, reputable clinician. If you’re an employee in the aesthetics industry, it could lose you your job, and hamper your efforts to find a new role.

Professionalism online

Medical professional or business owner

It may be called ‘social’ media, but interaction with strangers online should still stay professional if you want to keep up your good reputation. If you are a medical professional, and you present yourself as exactly that, you’re likely to get the respect you deserve. If you become too casual, or are involved in discussions of contentious topics, your audience may remember you more for your choice of holiday destination or political preferences than for your professional knowledge.

People who have never met you, but can see your public social media profiles, will build a picture of you from your online presence alone. They may not know that in-person you’re a skilled clinician with a calm, professional demeanour, instead they might just see you sharing memes and jokes and get an impression of your sense of humour. If your audience is simply made up of family and friends, there’s obviously nothing wrong with that, but if it’s a public feed you also use to promote your clinical services, it may not do much to boost business.

For that reason, take care with what you say, and how you present yourself. You may have strong political opinions, but if you are a doctor and not a politician, your patients are coming to you for your cosmetic procedures, not for your insights on the government. Some who agree with you may not mind at all, but you risk alienating those who do not, so proceed with caution. If you’re Ricky Gervais, you can probably get away with risqué jokes and opinions without it damaging your career. If you’re a surgeon, jokes may not make your future patients feel reassured. Stick to what you know and only share the most relevant and helpful information with prospective patients. Think about the clientele you are trying to attract, or the peers you want to engage with. If you run a high-end, well-respected clinic in an exclusive location, then posting links to sensationalist articles in ‘trashy’ magazines or tabloid newspapers is unlikely to garner interest from the elite, and won’t offer any academic insights for clinical professionals, or support your expertise. On the other hand, if you run a chain of high street laser clinics and offer straightforward, affordable treatments, you may give your customers the wrong impression if you only post links to medical journals or elitist publications.

Employee

What is acceptable on social media differs to some extent depending on who you are and what you do. If you’re a professional model, then posting photos of yourself pouting and posing in lingerie may be promoting your line of work, but if you’re doing the same and you’re an aesthetician, it may not do much to boost your reputation as a dedicated professional, and it may be unacceptable to your employer. Wearing a skimpy bikini on the beach is hardly going to cause offense, but your employer may not be keen for employees to be seen like that by patients, so it may be wise to keep those for your private Facebook page. Whether you agree with them or not, there are conventions of society that deem certain language or behaviour as disrespectful or unacceptable in public and in the workplace. On social media it is sometimes possible for users to break those rules, but be wary, as the lack of regulation doesn’t make it all okay. Online profiles offer a degree of anonymity that gives some a façade to hide behind, and behave in a way they never would in public.

When wondering whether a comment you’re about to post publicly is acceptable, think about whether you would be happy saying it out loud in public, or whether you would show it to your boss, because it’s possible that your patients or your colleagues may see it too. Some types of behaviour may be unacceptable for your particular line of work, and some are simply unacceptable in any public place. Swearing, racism, and threatening language are offensive both in and out of the workplace, so expect no employer to find that acceptable on social media.

Just remember that employers and recruiters do look at public social media profiles to check whether a person is acting professionally. When you apply for a job, a hiring manager or agency recruiter may perform a brief search to make sure your online presence appears reputable, and if there is any hint that you could act unprofessionally either in or out of the workplace, your application may end up at the bottom of the pile.

It’s also not unheard of for an employee to be reprimanded or even sacked for offensive remarks or other online content that the employer deems as unacceptable, so don’t be careless and think social media doesn’t matter. In her article for The British Medical Journal, ‘How much of a social media profile can doctors have?’, GP Dr Margaret McCartney discusses social media and the issue of maintaining a distinction between professional and personal lives. Dr McCartney makes reference to a case in Nottingham where a nurse was sacked after she breached patient confidentiality with a post on Facebook, and a case where a Scottish junior doctor was suspended over online comments about senior doctors.1

Using social media platforms for their intended purpose

Just because an online networking tool falls into the category of ‘social media’, that doesn’t mean each and every one is supposed to be used for the same purpose. Though it is technically possible to post a picture of your cat looking cute across any platform, that doesn’t mean you should. Some social media sites were designed for personal use, so you can document and share memories with your family and friends, and easily keep in touch with your social circle. Some were designed as networking tools for business professionals, and some were designed to be public forums for commentary.

If you post your cat photo on your private Facebook feed, your friends can ‘like it’, ‘comment’, or if they’re dog people, ignore it. On Twitter and Instagram, unless you’re in a tight group of cat fans, your photo will just join a sea of millions of cat photos, and is unlikely to attract

much attention, unless it happens to be a particularly exceptional or amusing photo. On LinkedIn, as your cat photo is unlikely to relate to any of the business topics being discussed on the site, it may be seen as unprofessional or suggest a lack of understanding of how to use the networking tool.

You may use platforms such as Facebook for both work and play, but keep the division between your personal profile and your professional page clear. Professional profiles will almost always be completely public, and should be, because the point is to expose your offering to the right audience, and as many of those people as possible. Privacy settings can and should be used for personal profiles, to protect any private information and images that you do not want the world to see.

Just remember, however, that what your friends want to see may be very different to what your patients or colleagues want to see. If necessary, you can easily set up separate accounts on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and logging into separate accounts can help you keep the division between personal and professional clear. Register using your personal email address for your personal profile, and register using your work email address for your professional account.