How to Be Yourself on Social Media – Without Freaking Out Your Boss

It’s a common story: employee posts something unusual on Facebook, boss flips out, and drama ensues. But it’s a lot less frequent when the questionable Facebook photos are, in fact, posted by the boss. That’s what happened to Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre, the second-largest chain of boutique hotels in the U.S.

Conley – author of Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success – was known for his fun, unconventional approach. But when he posted shirtless pictures of himself on Facebook having fun at the Burning Man Festival (no sex or drugs involved), some objected, leading to a barrage of media attention. The question: how can business professionals navigate the new boundaries of social media – while still maintaining their authenticity?

Conley decided to keep his photos up: “Our mission statement is creating opportunities to celebrate the joy of life and that’s what we were doing there,” he told me in an interview. “I realized it was one more opportunity to be authentic in life. In this case, a lot of people said, ‘we really appreciate the fact that you are who you are.’” Based on his own experience, he has four tips for other business professionals on how to thrive and keep it real online.

Make sure your values and your company’s are aligned.  Sometimes – if it means you might lose your job – the risk of social media just isn’t worth it, says Conley. “If you’re in a conservative company with very strict rules, and if you’re in an environment where people are expected to leave their personal life at the door, then you need to be careful about whether Facebook is right for you.” Don’t risk your job needlessly – but if your values and your company’s don’t line up, think hard about whether it’s the right place for you.

Don’t do anything ‘to make a point.’ Being yourself is great, but having an attitude about it isn’t. If you have an agenda or want to embarrass your boss or your company, rethink your motives. Says Conley, “I didn’t [post the pictures] to make a point and I didn’t leave them up for that reason. I left them up because I heard from so many employees that they liked them.”

Don’t tarnish your company’s reputation.  Want to do something creative online? Don’t use your company’s logo. Want to make a video? Don’t film it at your office. Use common sense to ensure it’s clear that you’re expressing your own opinions, not those of your employer.

Never bash your company. Most importantly, don’t use social media as a vehicle for complaints about work. “You can tell your friends, you can tell people at a dinner party, but when it comes to ‘word of mouse,’ your voice can carry a lot farther if you’re going to say bad things about your company,” says Conley. He also cautions that – if you do feel compelled to publicly criticize your employer – it should be a last step, not the first. Start by trying to work from the inside to correct problems or get help. Says Conley, “don’t [be critical online] while you’re an actively engaged employee trying to help the company succeed. There are other ways to do it.”

What are your strategies for balancing your personal and professional life on social media?

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on August 27, 2012.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.