When Facebook was becoming popular it started out very innocent and playful: we used it to watch our old classmates get fat or stalk our exes. Over the years, whether we like it or not, FB has become an integral part of our reality. There is a social expectation that if you don’t have a life on Facebook then you must not have a life, period… or, even worse, are computer-illiterate (a.k.a. “too old for FB”). Many of my clients and candidates are confused about handling professional relationships on FB. If you have been on FB for a few years, chances are, you have formed FB friendships with some folks at the office. So instead of trying to start over, it is easier to adapt some general guidelines appropriate for your office environment and tweak your FB behavior for your advantage.
The Big Question
When I am asked if it’s appropriate to be Facebook friends with your boss, I always like to start with the fact that you may not have a choice in the matter. If they send you a request, not accepting it may cause a lot of unnecessary friction. People generally don’t take rejection well.
Being friends with your boss on Facebook is work. This “friendship” comes at a price of watching your content and periodically checking their page to acknowledge their big news and laugh at their (sometimes flat) jokes. However, on the flip side it allows you to get to know them better and build a closer bond. Your schmoozing sounds a lot more genuine and smooth when you say: “Those steaks you grilled last night looked awesome!” or “I saw your accident pics… Wow. Is there anything I can do to help?”
However, be careful sending requests to your office superiors. Before forcing yourself on your boss or a mentor, casually mention it in a conversation and carefully watch their reaction. Only add them if you are sure that it would be a welcome move.
- When initiating office FB connections, make sure each player is a valid addition to the list. Maintain a level of exclusivity – don’t add people you wouldn’t eat lunch with.
- Let your reports send you FB request you first. If you initiate FB relationships with your staff, they will feel obligated to participate instead of seeing this as a privilege.
- Be strategic and make sure you are not connecting with two people that hate each other at the office (always choose a more strategic connection if possible). If you invite a colleague to connect, while being already connected with their rival consider how they would feel, once they see you exchange friendly comments with the object of their frustrations.
- Don’t carelessly “add friends” thinking you will control the situation later by customizing your security settings. People do see that you’ve limited their view and in some cases may find this offensive.
Keeping up an image accepted in your office setting can help establish trust, which is why I wouldn’t advise shying away from connecting with respected leaders at your office. You can use FB to relate to your office contacts, advertise your professional posts on LinkedIn or simply show your fun side. If you are using FB correctly, it could be a neat public relations tool to help you build your career. This means monitoring and “approving” comments and tags from others, carefully selecting your content (no broken hearts, politics or religion) and keeping up with FB pages of those who count. Extra effort? Sure, but who said that being successful was easy?