My Boss Follows Me on Instagram — What Do I Do?

Our virtual presence and identity has become as prominent and, in many ways, as important, as our physical one. So understanding the changing rules of social media and professional life is critical.

UK, London, businesswoman in underground train looking at cell phone
(Image credit: Westend61)

Every month, career coach Liz Bentley will be answering your candid questions about work, so you never have to stress about the office.

The answer is yes IF your social media accounts are inappropriate or contain anything you would not want a potential employer seeing. They will most likely google you to review your background and get to know you better and that includes the usual suspects—your Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn profiles. If your content meets this standard, then do keep them public, otherwise you’ll miss the opportunity to showcase your skills, interests, and network, along with the fact that you’re savvy with social media.

Cleaning up your social media profiles is important not only at the beginning of your career, but throughout it. Your social media presence is the image you are presenting to the world and your employers will continue to look at your profiles even after you've gotten an offer. (I often hear bosses say that they can tell their employee is looking for a job from the way they’re presenting themselves on LinkedIn.) And your boss and colleagues can see into your social life on most platforms, viewing your vacations, friends, weekend activities, and interests outside of work. In general, stay away from posting pictures with alcohol and excessive partying or inappropriate clothing. It’s best to keep it all as clean as possible.

But also know that your online presence tells a story of your life, so not posting at all isn’t necessarily the answer. Employers and colleagues following each other on social media can bring them closer and make them more engaged. Having no profile at all might lead to its own suspicions, or just make people feel less connected to who you are outside of work. Our work lives and personal lives are merging more and more, especially as many of us work 6 days a week with flexible hours.

My boss just started following me on Instagram…and now I’m self-conscious about what I’m posting. I don't feel like I should block her, but I also feel like I can’t behave as I normally would. It’s not as if I’d ever post something inappropriate! It just feels like I’m now being watched even in my out-of-office hours. What do I do?

While I understand that it must feel uncomfortable for your boss to be following you, it is not that unusual and can be expected more and more. As long as you’re not posting anything inappropriate, I wouldn’t stress too much about it. If a friend makes a comment that’s over the top, ask them to take it down, not just because of your boss but because it’s better to keep your social media profiles clean. Your social media presence reflects your image; your friends will understand and follow your lead.

If your boss references something from your social media accounts, it will likely be to ask you about an experience you had or something of that nature. Just handle it like any other conversation. You can also make a social media account that’s private and open to a select group of friends and then have your other, more public page for the rest of your connections. As your career grows, this will continue to be something important to monitor and evaluate on a regular basis.

Your profiles are an opportunity to showcase your skills, interests, and network, along with the fact that you’re savvy with social media.

Is it better to message an employer on LinkedIn or search for an email address? What about DMing someone on Instagram?

Of the social media platforms, LinkedIn is the place to go for employment opportunities. Always make LinkedIn your first stop to look up potential employers. Start by looking to see how active they are on the platform—if they post often, have a substantial number of connections, and maintain a robust profile. If so, they will likely open a LinkedIn message, so reaching out there first is the best way to go. If you don’t get a response you can search for their email address and send your message straight to their inbox. The upside of the email is that they will be more likely to see it, the downside is that they may feel it’s pushy of you to be emailing them directly.

I have clients who have been able to get into companies and secure good jobs through LinkedIn, but they were very clever in their approach. First, they researched the top leaders and set up alerts every time the company and the leaders were in the news. That way they could keep on top of the latest information happening in the organization. Then they customized their messaging to reflect the information they had gathered. From that they stood out and got in the door. Getting the alerts also helped them in the interview process.

Regarding the other social media platforms—Instagram and Facebook—only resort to these avenues if the person is not on LinkedIn or seems inactive there. The same rules apply here as for email. Most important is the content of the email or message that you send. Make sure you have done your homework on the employer and are saying something that will captivate their attention. Don’t make it all about you, instead make it about them and why you might be relevant for their business. Put yourself in their shoes and think about why should they respond to you.

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Liz Bentley

Liz Bentley is the founder of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs for individuals and companies. Drawing upon her background in psychology, previous experience in sales and management, and a lifetime of experience in competitive sports, Liz has a unique appreciation of mindset and the power it has to change patterns of behavior. Liz received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia and her coaching certification from New York University.