Don’t get sued or fired! The Outreach Librarian’s no-BS guide to your online presence

Yes, we need to have this conversation. It’s a good reminder for myself as I tread the online world. I’ve also seen many “don’ts” on the old internet that I  hope no potential employers/current bosses come across for the sake of the poster. (While I am not currently supervising, I have worked as a supervisor with hiring power at numerous positions.) If you disagree with anything suggested here, I’d love to hear from you, please!

Let’s tackle this issue from both the personal and professional/organizational angles.

online-presenceYour personal presence: First, it’s neither really personal nor is it private. Even if you have strict privacy settings. Especially if you have strict privacy settings because that makes me think you are posting content that could get you in trouble. Which means someone someday in your inner social media circle is going to get pissed and share that stuff you’ve been “hiding.” If you need to say something truly private, make a phone call or talk in person.

Do these with your online presence:

  • post updated pictures of yourself engaged in your hobbies…IF your hobbies are ones you would tell MY grandmother about after she cooked you a nice brisket and asked genuinely after your health
  • share BuzzFeed, Tumblr, HuffPo, and other links that reflect your values and passions…without resorting to name-calling, partisan politics, and shaming. I am NO fan of the Kardashians, but I try to share links from DListed via email and not my Facebook page. Truly engaging links can reflect your interests in a positive way. Special to YA/kid librarians: I love the Harry Potter stuff you post.
  • Pin stuff that shows me you are creative, or at least willing to crib great ideas from those who are.  Your Pinterest board is the new mirror to your soul.
  • keep it positive as much as possible. Instead of angrily venting frustrations, try to use social media to engage people in a positive, problem-solving discussion. Case in point: I’ve been very frustrated with insurance coverage in the past. Bitching about it on Facebook was a great way to upset my employer. What I should have done was to use Facebook to get suggestions for ways to deal with my frustrations. That would show I’m a problem-solver, not a belly-acher.
  • join and engage in online librarian groups. This is especially true for library school students; online groups are a great way to start connecting with the profession.
  • share positive work experiences…without identifying information. So glad you had a great ref desk experience. Share it! As an employer, I would love to see that. Do not tell me any details about this person or their question. Also, tell us about ideas you are excited to try or upcoming events that you simply cannot wait for, like your Doctor Who party.
  • do post shout-outs to your colleagues, institution, favorite authors, patrons who are ok with you doing so, your minions, and those who inspire you.  Showing the love reflects your ability to recognize others and focus on the positive.
  • post about volunteer work and organizations that reflect your values and passions.  Caveat: If I see you support Democrats to Lock Republicans In a Scary Basement, I might balk. Just sayin’, “Like” things are your own risk. You could find a nice alternative that still reflects your values and stays true to you, such as Feeding the Hungry or Educate Girls. See the difference? A potential employer might!

Please avoid these for your sake, please!

  • do not hit POST or SUBMIT or SEND when you are annoyed, angry, sad. I’ve definitely made this error, and depend on friends to keep me from making huge mistakes for all to see by calling or emailing them.
    The attention you get from such a post is fleeting and it’s often coming from people for whom an “I’m sorry” is easy and not truly meaningful. Connect in person with someone who cares. That’s worth more than all of those “that sucks” from online acquaintances.
  • vaguely hint about ANYTHING. It’s cloying, annoying, and immature. (Do not post it if Dame Maggie Smith would roll her eyes and tell you to say what you mean and mean what you say.)

    Out with it, already!

    Out with it, already!

  • complain about patrons, your job, your boss, colleagues. Someone is going to see it. It’s not cool. Tweeting that you need hand sanitizer after checking out a copy of “Thong on Fire” is disrespecting patron privacy. It also makes you look like a judgmental jerk who does not care about serving all patrons.
  • complain at all. Rephrase complaints as conversation starters. Unless you are asking for advice about dealing with someone on the same social media network as you. In that case: private email or phone call.
  • keep your Nursery Ideas board public if you have not told your employer you are pregnant.
  • post your health woes. Or those of your family members.

e60Remember, the bridges you burn may light your way…to a lawsuit, being fired, or not getting an interview. And on that note, I need to go untag photos of me getting Iced at my wedding. Let’s move on to the professional/organization best practices of your online presence.

Your professional/organizational presence: I consider my personal presence TO BE my professional presence. So when I post pictures of my vacation, I fully expect anyone in my professional life to be able to access them and judge me based on them. I will post a pic of me on the beach with a mojito. I’m a legal adult who does not suffer from alcoholism. I will not post a picture of me on the beach after three mojitos.  That does not happen, but you get the picture.

I would advise you to follow the guidelines for personal presence, but here’s a few things to consider when job-searching.

  • do not post about your job search if your employer does not know you are seeking a new position. I honestly see this online.
  • avoid posting “hey, I need a job!” Post that you are “seeking a position that will make use of my experience serving young adults in a public library setting that will allow me to share my ___, ____, ___ skills.” Now I know to share that new job post I saw on a job board or to recommend you to a colleague.
  • ask for specific advice on librarian social networks. Instead of posting that you did not get a job, ask what new hires said in an interview that landed them the position. Don’t say, “I’ve got an interview for my dream job, any advice?” Rather, ask: “If you were hiring someone for ____ job, what qualities would you look for in a candidate?”
  • use your social networks to show engagement in the profession. Post links about awesome libraries of the world. Comment on discussions about open source. Retweet John Green. Show a potential employer you are an active citizen of LibraryLand.
  • not using that Twitter account? Consider losing it. Done posting to your blog? If the content is engaging and still relevant, write a final post explaining that you are no longer updating the blog, but still want to provide potentially helpful content. Make sure your online presences don’t look abandoned.

Organizational presence refers to your institution’s official online presence, such as a dedicated Twitter account, Pinterest boards, or Facebook Page. But you already knew that.

Do these and many people will be happy:

  • understand and prominently post your institution’s policy on taking and using pictures/videos. This is especially important when dealing with minors. If it’s your policy to take photos at any time of whomever is in the library and use them for publicity, you need to post this. I’m not being alarmist when I say you might have patrons who need their whereabouts protected. They need to know the policy and to whom to speak if this is an issue.
  • consider regular features, such as a Throwback Thursday, weekly staff profile, Patron of the Week, etc. Gives folks something to look forward to and a way for you to more accurately assess your online presence’s effectiveness.
  • divide up the work but be clear. My colleagues and I have regular weekly posts we each are assigned. We keep in touch when we need to stray from the template or have an idea to try.
  • provide links. You’d be surprised how many folks forget this! How do we find out more? Give us a link!
  • a picture is worth a thousand words. Takes less time for us to process it, can make us want to find out more if it’s enticing, and creates a more engaging online presence. I’m a big fan of having real people pose with signs that convey the text aspect of your message.
  • always have a camera ready…for you never know when a group of students might host a random rave in the library or when someone will come in dressed as Darth Vader. These moments are gold and generate energy for your library, both virtually and in-person.
  • promote events at least a week in advance. Thank you!
  • consider ways users can contribute to the message: video contests, questions-of-the-week, calls for images (post your Halloween costume, your Movember status, etc.)

I’m sure there’s much more I’m forgetting and that I’ve managed to suggest something to offend most anyone.

Special thanks to student affairs professional Courtney Drew of Carthage College who taught me “focus on the positive” is one of the best ways to teach people about their online presence. Even if I did not do that entirely here.

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