As in the real world, social media comes with rules. Don’t steal someone’s photo and post without credit. Don’t harass or bully strangers, even if their memes are stale. And don’t add your coworkers…or do.
Some rules are hard yesses or nos, but this one falls in a grey area. On one hand, your coworkers are the people you spend most of your time with. Chances are, when you’re with a group of people for 40-plus hours per week, you’re bound to make a friend or two. And as those friendships grow, isn’t it natural to want to let each other in? If your deskmates are going to hear your weekend stories anyway, might as well share with them the view from that hike you went on or the shot of that bomb burrito you ate.
But on the other hand, you’re spending 40-plus hours with these people. Isn’t that enough? It might be worth saving the rest of your precious time and space for yourself, and to keep the private well, private. Sure your follower count will go up. But at what cost.
There’s a case to be made for privacy. It’s fair to want to keep your Insta stories and Twitter rants private. You might want to post content directly related your job—a Friday morning selfie asking if it’s 5 p.m. yet, for example. Adding a coworker on social media and allowing that boundary to be crossed might make you feel like you have to change the nature of what you post, and it can be frustrating to feel like you have to censor yourself.
After all, what you post isn’t necessarily your coworkers’ business. Jack from accounting doesn’t need to see that video of your boyfriend’s dinosaur impression that you posted in the name of #content. Nor does he need to see what you ate for breakfast Saturday morning, or what you drank and did the night prior. You don’t want to incriminate yourself, and you shouldn’t have to.
And chances are, you don’t care to know those details about Jack’s personal life, either. You probably don’t want to unintentionally pressure your coworkers to change their content; you don’t want them to feel like they can post less or post differently just because of a new cyber connection.
It also might be worth keeping your content private for more professional reasons, say, if you care to use your platforms to reach out and ask if any place is hiring. If your boss or a nosy coworker follows you, you wouldn’t be able to.
But it all depends. In media, for example, you might be particularly interested to know what your coworkers are reading and sharing. In that context, keeping up with the trends means peeping into the minds—and accounts—of contemporaries you respect. As a result of having followed some coworkers (keyword: some) I’ve been able to read informative articles, find new recipes, and laugh at some truly fire memes. It’s beneficial to me to stay connected, to grow my network, to pay attention.
Yes, I’m now more aware of whether the Drake lyrics captioning my IG posts are more incriminating than wise, but I’m sure that’s best for all of us. The old adage of don’t put anything on the internet that you wouldn’t want your grandmother/boss/Rihanna to see holds true. These are the people whose opinions you most likely respect, and it can’t hurt to have that follower count remind you of that. (Still waiting on that @badgirlriri follow back.)
If anything, social media could serve as an ice-breaker between you and a coworker, a window to bond over common interests and discuss something beyond project deadlines. And speaking of the personal, as I’ve already noted, coworkers can sometimes become friends. And friends follow each other on Instagram. If your relationship with your coworker seems to naturally flow in that direction, it isn’t necessary to fight that in the sake of a perhaps outdated understanding of professionalism. Rules for rules’ sake aren’t helping anyone here.
It’s worth keeping in mind a few factors: your company culture, your line of work, your individual relationship with each coworker. And of course, your own personal choice. Peer pressure is so high school. Brené Brown would remind us that vulnerability (and openness, bravery, etc.) is important. “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen,” Brown wrote. But she would also point out that vulnerability doesn’t mean telling the stranger at the bus stop your deepest, darkest secrets or your barista your childhood traumas.
Vulnerability is knowing when and how to share, and to whom—bravely but selectively and mindfully. If you want to keep your social media private, remember that you are allowed to draw boundaries that make you comfortable. You don’t need to justify it beyond that.
And if you want to follow your deskmate and share that photo of you in a bathing suit with the caption, “With your phone out, gotta hit them angles,” you go ahead and do you, sis.
Want more tips for mastering social media? If you’re looking to grow your brand—or your personal brand—we’ve got IRL workshops on beating the algorithm and creating better content in the Social Circle at the Girlboss Rally. Register now at girlbossrally.com.