Professionalism/Professionalism in Social Media

According to Merriam Webster social media is a form of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users creates online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos). Currently there are 901 million monthly active users on Facebook, [1]. more than 140 million active users on twitter [2]., and Linkedin has more than 100 million total members.[3]. With this explosion of social media usage it is more important than ever for people to conduct themselves professionally on these sites. This chapter aims to explore what it means to be professional in this new setting.


These examples show two cases of people using Facebook unprofessionally as defined by their employers. Both of these cases were highly controversial with many people believing that the employers went too far.

A 24 year old teacher named Ashley Payne was forced to resign from her teaching position at a high school in Barrow County, Georgia in 2009. Ashley and some of her colleagues went on a summer vacation trip to Europe. In Europe some of the places she visited included the Guinness brewery in Ireland, and cafes in Italy and Spain. [4] While on vacation she took a couple of pictures of herself holding some alcoholic beverages such as wine or beer. Since she was not actively drinking any of the alcohol in the pictures and she did not seem intoxicated in any of the pictures she decided to post these pictures on her Facebook account. She also thought it was safe because her account was set to the highest privacy settings and she had not "friended" any of her students. However, after her trip, Payne was called into the principal’s office. The principal told her that a parent of one of her students called to complain that her daughter had seen these photos on her Facebook account. She was given two options, either resign, or be suspended. Payne chose to resign. The controversy in this case lies in the revelation that the complaint from the parent did not come from a phone call, but an anonymous email sent from an address that no longer exists. Payne is in the process of suing Barrow County on the grounds that she was fired without due process [5].

The next case is that of Ashley Johnson, a 22 year old waitress at the popular restaurant, Brixx. While on her shift during lunch time Johnson was waiting on a couple who sat at her table for 3 hours, causing her to stay an extra hour over her shift. When the couple finally left and she went to clear the table she found that they had only left her a $5 tip. Johnson, being upset, went home and posted a status on her Facebook account saying this, “Thanks for eating at Brixx, you cheap piece of **** camper.” A couple of days later Johnson was called into the manager’s office, was shown a print out of her comments, and was fired. She was told she had violated the company policy of never speaking negatively of customers and the policy the banned employees from casting Brixx in a negative light on social media.[6]


Twitter a real time social media network allows users to post their thoughts in messages called tweets to their followers or just people with access to their profile. Using twitter you can easily share your thoughts, videos, and even photos with the click of a button to hundreds or even thousands of people. However, as the case with many other social media avenues some people use this site inappropriately.

Anthony Weiner was the Congress Representative for New York. As an elected official, Weiner was often in the lime light and had a lot of followers on twitter. However, even congressmen have unprofessional moments using social media. On May 27, 2011 a picture of a man in boxers targeted at his groin appeared as a post on Weiner’s twitter. Weiner remarked that he did tweet the picture and could possibly be one of his competitors hacked his computer and is playing a prank on him. He continued to say that he could not confirm or deny whether the picture was of him. Then in June, more pictures of Weiner were sent over the Internet to a woman of him shirtless and working out at the Congressional gym. After TMZ leaked this photos, Weiner resigned from office and admitted that he had in fact tweeted the picture on May 27 and it was of him. He also admitted to sending crude pictures and having inappropriate electronic relationships with six different women using social media. In this case, unprofessional use of social media cost Weiner his position that he campaigned so hard to be elected into and many of those followers that believed in him. [7]

Medical physicians are a group of people that we trust with our health and to give us guidance. However, even physicians sometimes act unprofessional on twitter. The George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences conducted a study monitoring 5156 tweets from 260 physicians. They found that the majority of physicians were acting professional on twitter, however those tweets that were unprofessional could be harmful.

They found:

  • "144 tweets (3%) that they categorized as unprofessional
  • 0.7% represented potential patient privacy violations
  • 0.6% contained profanity
  • 0.3% included sexually explicit material
  • 0.1% included discriminatory statements
  • 12 tweets promoting specific health products the physicians were selling (representing potential conflicts of interest)
  • 10 were statements about medical treatments not supported by existing medical knowledge, potentially leading to patient harm"[8]

Through unprofessionalism on Twitter, sometimes your physician/patient confidentiality may be broken for the whole world to see your business. This show that someone else’s unprofessionalism on social media can also have adverse effects for those who did not even send the tweets.

Company PoliciesEdit

As more unprofessionalism is occurring on social media, companies have began creating policies to regulate their employees use in hopes of stopping the unprofessionalism that reflects badly on the company. Even the government has tried to create a policy where their employees can still use social media but with limits to protect the security and confidentiality of work. According to the memorandum put out by the Deputy Secretary of Defense “ensure that the information posted is relevant and accurate, and provides no information not approved for public release, including personally identifiable information (PII)” [9] To look at a plethora of other companies social media policies you can go to the Policy Database

There have also recently been cases of companies requiring access to the social media used by their employees or potential hires.[10] Often, this is coming in the form of requesting employees’ passwords to sites like Facebook and Twitter. While the goal may often be to protect the brand or the image of the company, this can cause serious problems. In some places, gathering information from an employee’s social networking profile may lead to legal cause of action. Moreover, some social networking sites (e.g. Facebook) explicitly prohibit the sharing of one’s password in their terms of service.[11] Requiring an employee to reveal such a password would constitute a violation of those terms. In response to these concerns, legislation is starting to appear prohibiting companies from requesting social networking passwords.[12]

Examples of Professional BehaviorEdit

While it can be remarkably easy to act or react unprofessionally in a social media setting, this does not need to be the case. Instead, social media offers a unique approach to professionalism that some are already finding advantageous.

In 2009, Domino’s Pizza took notice of the opinions their customers were posting on social networking sites, and realized that things were not looking good.[13] But instead of reacting in a negative way, Domino’s took a more professional stance. The company Domino’s began a marketing campaign in an attempt to curb these negative feelings. They revamped their menu, trying out new recipes for their sauce and crust and generally trying to improve the experience that their customers would have. And more importantly, they made this a part of their image, so that, to some degree, they could replace the idea of Domino’s as the company that wants to serve you cheap pizza with the idea of Domino’s as the company that just wants to serve you.

As a part of this marketing campaign, Domino’s produced this video, showing customer opinions on Twitter describing Domino’s pizza as “lacking,” “cardboard,” “boring,” and “bland.” More importantly, the video shows Domino’s recognizing the problem, admitting it, and seeming to take an earnest interest in resolving it. The video also shows the president of Domino’s saying that “you can’t lead a company like this unless you love food. I love food. I love pizza.” He saw it as a professional duty to provide better pizza, and so that’s what Domino’s did. Instead of the unprofessional behavior demonstrated in the cases above, Domino’s pizza approached social media in a professional manner, and it paid off. In the year after this marketing campaign began, Domino’s saw a 14% quarterly increase in sales and became the number one pizza-delivery service in the country.[14]

Responding to criticism is far from the only way one can take a professional approach with social media. An entire social network, LinkedIn, has risen as a way to build and maintain a professional identity and to connect with and interact with people in a more professional way than one may want to on other networks. Alternatively, a professional may be seeking to take advantage of the size and popularity of social media to connect with customers and reach new markets. Methods of marketing through social media are continually being developed.[15][16][17] And while the goal with such marketing may often be to simply expand a business or increase brand recognition, we can see in cases like Domino’s Pizza that this can be done in professional and respectful ways.


Professional engineers have a defined code of ethics to clarify what does and does not constitute professional behavior in the field.[18] There is a danger inherent in social media, though, in the ease with which the boundary between personal and professional lives can be crossed. Each day, as social media becomes more ubiquitous in every aspect of life, it gets easier and easier to follow in the footsteps of Ashley Johnson or Ashley Payne or Anthony Weiner and find a conflict between the social side of social media and professionalism. Nevertheless, it is the nature of being a professional that wherever one’s private life is in public view, it is no excuse to act unprofessionally.


  1. Facebook.
  2. Twitter Blog.
  3. LinkedIn Blog.
  4. CBSNews, Did the Internet Kill Privacy,
  5. Melancon, Merrit. "Barrow teacher presses forward with Facebook lawsuit" reference
  6. Frazier, Eric. "Facebook Post costs waitress her job"
  7. Rep. Anthony Weiner: ‘The Picture Was of Me and I Sent It’ reference
  8. Physicians Need to Use More Discretion on Twitter, Study Suggests reference
  9. Directive- Type Memorandum (DTM) 09-026 – Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-based Capabilities reference
  10. Companies Require Facebook Password During Interview
  11. Facebook Terms of Service
  12. Maryland is first state to ban employers from asking for Facebook passwords
  13. Pizza Turnaround
  14. Domino's Pizza Boosts Taste, and Sales Follow
  15. Social Media Marketing Beginner’s Guide
  16. 10 Small Business Social Media Marketing Tips
  17. 26 Tips for Success With Location-Based Marketing
  18. NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers