I’ve recently been working with a client to help people embrace social media and collaboration as a new way of working – a truly fascinating topic. But my research did uncover a darker side to the internet that we’re all becoming increasingly familiar with.

While some social media has proven to be an invaluable resource for professionals including job seekers and employers alike, it also provides a stack of opportunities for committing career suicide. As the ‘social’ in social media increasingly intersects with the professional networking aspects of sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, you can all too easily succumb to a cycle of shameless self-exposure - at the expense of your career.

But it is possible to use social media for both socialising and work while continuing to wield control over your professional image and job prospects. To strike this balance, you’ll need to do some work, and a bit of damage control. Here’s what to do, and what to avoid.

First things first: Fix your grammar

No matter the industry, a working professional’s ultimate goal on sites like LinkedIn and Twitter is to portray a polished image – to come across as competent and successful. This said, your expertise and accomplishments will be undermined if the written content contains grammatical errors or typos.

Simple mistakes, like writing ‘your’ in place of ‘you’re’, will not go unnoticed – particularly by the discerning eyes of potential employers or clients. To put it plainly, it will make you look stupid.

To make sure your profiles, comments and blog posts are properly spelled and punctuated, consult a professional editor or a word-savvy friend to look them over before promoting yourself all over the worldwide web.

Keep your Facebook page on lockdown

Facebook can be especially tricky to navigate. Unlike LinkedIn, it’s commonly used for both social and professional dealings; if you’re not careful, the lines between the two are quickly blurred.

To avoid colleagues, head hunters, or prospective employers becoming privy to both the mundane and the more unseemly details of your private life, reserve Facebook for socialising and put your privacy settings on high.

If you need to have a professional profile on Facebook, create a separate, tightly controlled profile in which you remain squeaky clean and work-oriented, leaving all the rest to your alias page.

Get a proper headshot

Like it or not, appearances count for a lot. Spend some time – unless you’re horribly photogenic and can get away with a friend-taken photo – and some money having several professional headshots taken. Use these for your social media pages and your website (if you have one). Consult a colleague or friend to help you choose the photos that best flatter you, as well as capturing you at your most professional.

That will likely mean donning a suit and having a supremely good hair day.

Avoid personal or controversial comments

Sites like Twitter and LinkedIn are ripe with conversation – and often, controversy. While joining groups and contributing to discussions about your industry are important to building your professional brand on social media, you should always keep your tone polite and light.

Never engage in overly controversial or heavy subjects and never sink to the level of petty or offensive banter. Quite frankly, you – and your career – won’t be able to live it down.

Filter the unflattering

It’ll take some work, but you should never let your professional pages on social media sites lie dormant. Not only should you consistently edit and update your profiles to stay relevant and reflect what’s new – both in your company and industry – you should periodically look through your profiles as an external party would, removing anything that seems untoward, unflattering and outdated.

Always tweet, type and post with purpose

Again, boosting your professional image on social media means remaining active on these forums. Blogging, posting comments in LinkedIn discussion groups, tweeting, and the like are all great ways to engage with people in your sector. That said, always be mindful of everything you write, post and do on these sites, as they will be seen, and potentially used (rightly or wrongly) to gauge your competency. So before you type a comment or paste a link, think about what it is you are trying to achieve, professionally-speaking. Is the content relevant? Could it help improve your image or spark an important discussion within your sector? If not, cut your losses and log off.

From all the research I did, I certainly support the use of thoughtful, intelligent, and intentional social media use, especially when you’re collaborating with other professionals, hoping to get hired, or simply just noticed. Just make sure to use the heady power that social media bestows upon all of us wisely. When in doubt, step away from the edge and salvage your career.

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