Watch Out! Twitter Affects How You Are Perceived By Colleagues [STUDY]

Do you consider your audience before tweeting? More importantly, do you consider your audience overall?

Just because someone isn’t your “friend” on Facebook or following you on Twitter, do you think about what they’ll see if they scan through your tweets? You probably should.

A joint study from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, USA and Rouen Business School, France describes how four different approaches to managing online social media presence affect the way we are perceived at work.

Ariane Ollier-Malaterre of Rouen Business School, who led the study, researched how and why employees manage the boundaries between their professional and personal identities in online social networks, and how these behaviors impact the way they are regarded by professional contacts.

“As the world becomes increasingly connected through social media, employees are interacting more with co-workers, supervisors, and other professional contacts on online social networks. Some of these online networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, are social spaces where interactions can be personal as well as professional. This results in a potential collision of worlds that can open up opportunities as well as create challenges for employees”, said Ollier-Malaterre.

According to the framework of the study, online boundary management affects our relationships at work in two ways: how well we are liked and how much we are respected.

The researchers identified four approaches that social media participants can take:

  • Audience.Keeping professional and personal networks separate – for instance, using Facebook for personal contacts and LinkedIn for professional contacts.
  • Content. Having both professional and personal contacts, but managing the content you post to improve your image in the eyes of both personal and professional contacts. This may also imply controlling who can tag you in photos and monitoring the comments other make on your profile on Facebook – and on Twitter it means REALLY paying attention to what you tweet.
  • Hybrid. Doing both audience and content, that is separating the professional and the personal audiences (by using lists on Facebook for instance), and managing the content to try and look good in the eyes of colleagues and personal friends. You could try to do this with #hashtags on Twitter, but you can’t expect professional contacts will be blind to #personal tweets. The better choice is to have two separate accounts on Twitter – one personal, one professional.
  • Open. Airing your views and feelings, whether they are positive or negative, and letting everyone comment on your posts. No filtering of content, and no boundary management. This is probably what most people do and it’s the most dangerous.

So what SHOULD you do?

Content and hybrid approaches are the most likely to increase respectability and likeability in the workplace; however, they require time and effort because they imply constant monitoring.

If you take the hybrid approach, you’ll need to keep up with ever changing privacy settings to avoid mistakes such as posting to the wrong list of contacts. They are also prone to accidental over-disclosure when people forget about the ‘invisible audience’ or when their contacts share unwanted information or photos about them.

“The ability to manage boundaries is an important social skill for employees and managers as the workplace continues to move online” said Ollier-Malaterre. “How we are liked and how we are respected is affected by how we manage our online behavior. Hiring and firing decisions, interactions with groups and superiors are all dependent on these factors. It is vitally important” she continued.

How do YOU manage your interactions online? Does this make you reconsider?

The complete cite for the research is: Ollier-Malaterre, A, Rothbard, N., & Berg, J. (2013). When worlds collide in cyberspace: How Boundary Work in Online Social Networks Impacts Professional Relationships. Academy of Management Review. doi: 10.5465/amr.2011.0235

(Boundary image from Shutterstock)