In an age where digital communication defines so much of our daily lives, it’s important that young people have the skills and knowledge to build a social media presence, and to maintain one as they enter the work force.

Young people are embracing Facebook, Twitter and texting as their primary means of communication.  This gives them an edge when being hired for jobs requiring social media skills, but it also leads to pitfalls as how they communicate about their lives has to adapt to the new circumstances.  As many people have pointed out over the last few years, the instantaneous nature of social media is both a blessing and a curse.

What happens if you are a new professional, used to sharing your entire life on Facebook or Twitter?  All of a sudden there are constraints on how you can communicate, and what you can communicate about.  Just posting “my opinions are my own” does not absolve you of any responsibility for professionalism.  Your employer also employs your reputation.  If you can’t be responsible on social media, you probably aren’t going to be an asset to your employer.

So how can you ensure your social media presence doesn’t get you into trouble?  Here are a few simple starting tips for young PR professionals:

Communication is a two-way street.

I spend a lot of time talking about implying and inferring.   Implying means what the person talking is trying to say, while inferring is what the person listening thinks they are saying.  Often, what someone infers is very different to what the speaker was implying.  This is when communication becomes a problem. Make sure you say things clearly so that there will be no misunderstandings.  In the end, it’s what is inferred that matters the most, not what you meant to say.

If you aren’t sure if it’s appropriate, it probably isn’t.

Err on the side of caution.  Going back to tip #1, if you think someone might take it the wrong way, then don’t post it.  Read every post over.  Could it be misunderstood?  Are you unsure if it’s OK to post?  If the answer is yes to either, rewrite it or simply don’t post it.  Employers expect you to be professional; this means thinking about the consequences of your actions.

It’s never OK to talk about your clients or your boss.

Simple.  Whether it be praising them or criticizing them, it’s never appropriate.  Think about tips #1 and #2.  What will your boss think the reasons for your post are?  What will your clients think?  They hired you for your professionalism and trustworthiness—don’t make them think you’re not.