Should you "friend" your boss on Facebook? How about your co-workers?
The lines between our social and work lives have blurred and more of us are using social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up with friends, cultivate industry ties and find new jobs. But when does the information become too racy, too forbidden and too much?
In one sense, "friending" your work colleagues is an easy way to keep up, especially if they write about who they had lunch with or the latest gossip around the office. After all, knowledge is power.
But do you want your colleagues to see your party pictures on Facebook? Especially if they weren't invited?
Pam Laughlin, director of career services for Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, suggests caution. You've got to think hard whether "friending" your boss or co-workers would be a career asset or a career liability.
In some workplaces, everyone is on Facebook, so not "friending" them might be the equivalent of avoiding office celebrations or the company picnic, said Laughlin.
If you decide to include your workplace in your social media, Laughlin recommends scrubbing your Facebook or similar site of any "digital dirt," including suggestive pictures, crude wall posts and memberships in any questionable groups. Then use Facebook privacy settings to restrict which group - from your personal friends to your casual acquaintances - can see your status updates, photos and other information.
Bosses should be wary, too, said Scott McLaughlin, an employment lawyer with Jackson Walker in Houston.
The closer a boss gets to subordinates, the more problems can crop up, said McLaughlin, who has developed social media policies for clients.
"It seems to me that when you erode the space, more personal details creep in," he said, like protected medical information that could unwittingly put an employer on notice about a disability. An online friendship also could generate charges of sexual harassment. "People start to say things they shouldn't," he said.
McLaughlin discourages boss-subordinate online friendships but understands they may be hard to avoid. It's still a good idea to remind everyone not to make disparaging remarks about the company or make comments that would create conflict at work, he said.
One way to handle the problem is to draw rigid lines of what's social and what's business.
Cassie Biscanin, public relations manager for the testing company Intertek Group Americas region, thinks of Facebook as a social network and includes only people she knows socially.
"I do not 'friend' people that I currently work with because - to me - there is a place and time for everything," she said. "Facebook is for connecting with old friends and new friends. It's not a place to connect with people you work with."
For professional contacts, Biscanin uses LinkedIn, which she calls the new Rolodex.
While LinkedIn contains social elements, it's designed around work affiliations. That's how you sign up and that's how you search for people, said Biscanin.
Or you can set up a professional Facebook page and another one for friends and family, suggests Brian Miller, president of the Entrepreneur's Source in Southbury, Conn., which provides coaching to would-be entrepreneurs.
That desire to keep the personal, well, personal, seems to be shared by many.
Sixty-two percent of workers recently interviewed reported they're not comfortable "friending" a co-worker on Facebook, according to Workplace Options, an employee wellness consulting company.
Twenty-two percent indicated they were comfortable with participating in social media sites with colleagues while 16 percent said it depends on the co-worker, according to the nationwide phone survey of 742 working adults. The survey has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Then there's the matter of who invites whom.
Laughlin recommends broaching the matter with your co-workers and boss the old-fashioned way - in person - and asking in private if you can "friend" them. That allows them to give a direct answer and explanation, avoiding the possibility of an awkward online silence.