Career Center Blog

October 26, 2009

Do coworkers, social media, and election politics mix?


I know many of you are swapping your Seattle mayoral picks and your thoughts on I-1033 and Ref. 71 around the office water cooler. But how about on Facebook and Twitter where many of your officemates and customers lurk?

When I've written about talking election politics at the office in years past, the expert advice has been to play it safe and stay mum. If you can't resist swapping election picks at work, the legal and career experts would warn, do so on a lunch or coffee break, steer clear of heated debates, and avoid canvassing your coworkers at all costs. More than anything, your employer is concerned about you disrupting office productivity, not whether you're talking political turkey.

In reality, I found that the corporate climate often dictates how much employees are willing to come out of the political closet. If you work at a small social justice organization, you're likely talking about the Nov. 3 election at the office -- a lot. If you work at a larger company where the bumpers stickers in the parking lot bear an assortment of moderate, liberal, and conservative political messages, you're likely keeping your mouth shut in mixed company.

But what about your Facebook and Twitter accounts? Do you let your political leanings out of the bag online for all your managers, coworkers, and customers to see, or do you play it safe and steer clear of any political chit-chat there, too?

A number of my social media contacts post about their national and local political views, regardless of the fact that their coworkers are friending them on Facebook and following them on Twitter. Links to articles and videos about their pet causes abound. Some even use avatars that reflect their views on hot-button issues like healthcare reform and same-sex marriage. I'm guessing you've noticed similar trends in your social media world, too.

On Facebook especially, it's almost impossible to stay out of the political fray, thanks to all the candidate and referendum fan pages and links to heated editorials passed around. Ask any Facebook user you know what they were talking about online at this time last year and most will say, "The presidential election -- what else?"

Readers, where do you stand on the social media and election politics continuum? Do you talk politics no matter who's reading your online musings? Keep your Facebook and Twitter accounts under lock and key (no coworkers allowed!) so you can talk as freely as you do in your own living room? Or do you avoid online political banter like the plague?

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide." E-mail Michelle at

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Michelle, you ask a good question. But I'm not sure that this has 'one' answer.

I think first, we must consider what our intent for Facebook is. If we're using it for friends only and have little to no possibility of having our own business, then we may be a bit more lax in what we say in these mediums.

If however, we are in a client-facing business and are at an age where our career could possibly change again (under 65?), then we must proceed with caution keeping in mind that what we put out on the internet is 'forever'.

While there's nothing wrong with joining political or religious groups, showing who you are, I would caution that comments we share should pass the "front page of the news" test. How would you feel if your comments or actions appeared on the front page of the news; today, tomorrow or 10 years from now...

Avoid putting anything on social media site that may embarrass or cast you in a negative light. Companies are looking at social media sites before interviews and may pass up a great candidate off a negative image from a social site.

Facebook is for your friends who you have invited into your inner circle. If they are your friends, more than likely they already know your political leanings. Additionally, your other friends probably have posted political comments on your page. Fortunately, Facebook is walled in garden. Your political thoughts stay among your friends and are not available to your business colleagues.

Twitter, on the other hand, is re-Tweetable, very public and searchable. You should assume that everything you Tweet will be found. If you Tweet for business purposes, you should stick to business. If you need a personal outlet, create a separate Tweet account.

I would like to use it for friends only. There are many other ways to gain some business.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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