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Ask a Senior Colleague- Summer 2015


In this edition: Questions about SOCIAL MEDIA

Question 1: I receive a lot of requests to “friend” students and colleagues on Facebook, network with people on LinkedIn, to join, etc. I see a lot of my colleagues doing this, and I know it’s important to network online, but I also have heard horror stories about it. When is this a good idea and when should I avoid it? What’s the best way to use social media and the Internet to promote myself? How do I do this without looking completely egotistical or embarrassing myself?

Answer: Let me begin by saying that I am a bit of a curmudgeon regarding social media probably because of my age but also because of my concerns about privacy and, more importantly, productivity.  Do not dismiss the horror stories and the reality that the internet is forever and there is no guarantee of privacy; be cautious and thoughtful in your online presence and in every e-mail interaction.  The bigger concern is that social media can become a time suck; like video games it provides a dopamine hit that can become addictive at worst or simply a bad habit at best.  Still, I approach the question as I try to do everything:  What is my objective in participating?  And, what is the cost/benefit analysis?  Just because someone asks you to do something – to join, friend, or link – does not mean that you have to do it.  The delete button is a very handy tool.  Why, exactly, do you want to do what they ask?  What are your goals? How will fulfilling their request help you achieve your goals?  Others will be able to respond to how best to use social media to promote oneself.  Note, however, that in academia it is quality research published in reputable journals that is the best way to promote yourself.  This is followed by personal interactions (including individual emails) with those whom you respect, wish to learn more from, and/or wish to help.

Question 2: : I’m Facebook friends with a colleague who keeps posting negative things about work. I’m concerned because it makes my department and senior colleagues look bad. I’m also worried that her comments are eventually going to get back to her boss and impact her employment (she is pre-tenure). Should I say anything to her about this? If so, how do I start the conversation? What do I say? I’m worried that she’ll misinterpret my intentions.

Answer: As a professional in a mentorship role, ask your colleague for a few minutes of her time.  Begin by telling her how happy you are that she is your colleague and that she is making good progress towards tenure; complement her on her teaching, service, or whatever is going well.  And then say that you do have one concern that you want to share with her because you do value her and want her to be successful.  And then tell her your concerns.  Remind her that the internet is forever and privacy is illusory.  Finish by again saying that you want her to be successful.  She may be very appreciative, or she may reject you.  If her Facebook posts don’t change immediately, or they change for a while and then resume being negative, then unfriend her and tell her why:  you are concerned for her and do not want to watch what you fear might become a very difficult situation.  If you are a FB friend, are privy to what she is writing, and it is discovered, you may experience guilt by association; why shouldn’t your senior colleagues assume that you agreed with what she wrote given that you continued to read her postings?  In fact, you may want to reconsider the value/risk of being her FB friend given this situation.  Note that if you are also pre-tenure you can still have this talk; just phrase it in terms that you want her as well as yourself to be successful and hope to work together for a long time.