Social Media Guidelines: The Generational Divide

If you spend any amount of time on social media, I’m sure you’ve noticed that different groups of people tend to use it very differently. Your Great Aunt Dorothy, for example, may use it to catch up with friends and share adorable pictures of her dogs and grandchildren. Your Grandpa Phil may use it to share his political opinions, possibly sharing some fake news in the process. Your young relative who recently finished school and moved to LA may use it solely for networking and career possibilities. The wide range of differing personalities and goals can make for an interesting time whenever you log in to see what’s new.

How Some Young Professionals Use Social Media

Folks over the age of ~45 — while you may still see your young relative as the tiny baby who tried to wiggle away when you changed their diaper, that is no longer how they see themselves. Due to a rapidly changing work culture and set of societal norms, many young people are acting as professionals on social media. This can take two forms. The first: people must be very cautious about what they post on the internet as it can be used against them in a professional setting, even if they delete or hide the post and it has been several years since they posted it. The second: young people may use their accounts to actively seek out work in their chosen fields.

Guidelines For Interacting With Professional Posts

So, a young person in your life is using their social media accounts to actively promote and pursue their careers. What do you do when that cute baby you used to read to when they babbled at you, posts or is tagged in something work-related?

  1. PLEASE DO: Like/love the post. This will show them that you are following their progress and are proud of them.
  2. PLEASE DON’T: Comment with something unprofessional. An example: “NAN IS SO PROUD OF YOU, TIMMY!!! XOXOXO 💕🏆✨👏😉💕💕💕 CALL ME. I LUUVVV U SO VERY MUCH!!!” This shows that you still view them as a child, and can actually get them in trouble with work.
  3. POSSIBLY DO: Comment with something professional and relevant to their post. If you do this, make sure it is THEIR post and not just one they were tagged in. An example: “Timothy, this article you wrote is very interesting. You say here that in your research on Yellow-bellied Sneetch Hunting you discovered the varying levels of gullibility of young children in regards to believing the things that their camp counselors tell them. Would you mind telling me more about that sometime? I’m very proud of how focussed you are in your career these days.” This can give them an opportunity to both share with you what they have been working on and put more information out there for people who are interested in reading about their work. Check in with your young person first to make sure that this is ok though. Everyone has a different comfort level. Personally I love it when my relatives do this. They’re really smart people and I value their opinions and input. Some people are still uncomfortable with this. Just ask. (In private. Before you do it.)

So, you’ve already commented with something unprofessional. What should you do?

  1. PLEASE DO: Delete your comment and reach out privately to apologize. Things happen, and different generations use social media very differently. We get it. Just delete it, say you’re sorry (privately), and move on.
  2. PLEASE DON’T: Comment “I READ THIS ARTICLE ON THIS MEDIUM DOT COM SITE THAT SAID I SHOULDN’T COMMENT ON YOUR POSTS. IS IT STILL OK?! I THINK YOU WOULD HAVE TOLD ME IF THIS WAS A PROBLEM. CALL ME. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. XOXOXOXO 💕💕💕😉😉😀
  3. POSSIBLY DO: Delete your comment, apologize privately, and replace your comment with one following the guidelines suggested in the last question.

So, you commented something unprofessional on your young person’s career post and the comment has disappeared. What should you do?

  1. PLEASE DO: Reach out (privately) to your young person. A great example of what to say is this: “Hey Donna, I’m very sorry if I overstepped and made things uncomfortable or problematic for you. I understand that I posted something unprofessional on one of your work-related posts. As the comment has been removed, I think this is something I definitely should not have done. I am so proud of you, and I love you very much. I know this whole social media thing is a little different for you than it is for me, and I’m learning how to handle this. Thanks for being such a great niece.” Note: Make it personal. Don’t copy and paste what I just wrote and send that.
  2. PLEASE DO: Talk to your young person and ask what their comfort level with your presence on their work posts is. (Privately.)
  3. PLEASE DON’T: Take it personally or feel hurt or attacked by this. Chances are, they either have spoken to you about this before and you didn’t understand the gravity of the situation or they simply didn’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you they didn’t want what you wrote to stay public. If they or somebody from work deleted your comment, it is not an attack on you, your character, or your intelligence. They simply decided it didn’t belong there.
  4. PLEASE DON’T: Comment and confront them on the disappearance. This creates unnecessary tension and an uncomfortable situation that they will now need to resolve.

*Note: my Dad and I are in very different industries, and this was his feedback when I asked him to read this article for spelling and grammar. In mine, it is worst to make unprofessional, sugary comments on a potential candidate’s social media. In my Dad’s, it’s worst to comment in support of disproven conspiracy theories such as Q-Anon or Pizzagate. Try to take things like this into account with Social Media conversations.**

So, your young person has posted something about an important career milestone. What should you do?

  1. PLEASE DO: Like/love the post. They are probably super excited and want to share this excitement with you. They want to know that you are proud of them.
  2. PLEASE DO: Comment with something positive. A simple “Congrats, Nick!” is perfect.
  3. PLEASE DON’T: Comment with something that minimizes their accomplishment. An example: “This could be a great stepping stone.” Why not? It’s hurtful and embarrassing. They worked hard to reach this step and saying something that belittles the accomplishment can make them doubt whether or not they should be celebrating it.
  4. PLEASE DON’T: Comment with something unprofessional and embarrassing. An example: “NICKY” BABY BOY, THIS IS SO AMAZING!!! I’M SO PROUD. I’M CALLING EVERYONE ELSE TO LET THEM KNOW. PLEASE MAKE SURE TO SING IN THE CHURCH CHOIR NEXT TIME YOU’RE HOME!! XOXO, DIANNA (THE PIANIST FROM YOUR CHURCH CHOIR AT HOME).” Instead, say a simple Congrats and then text or call to say your cute thing. They still want to hear it, just not on their professional page.

Setting Your Own Guidelines

Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha:

This is where we talk about that crappy step of setting guidelines with (usually older) relatives. This is everyone’s least favorite part of having relatives on social media. You can do this a few ways.

Making a professional page and a private page

This makes the most intuitive sense right off the bat. You can separate your work friends from your relatives so that nobody has to interact.

Pros

  1. Separates personal professional lives.
  2. Easy to keep relatives off professional AND weird networking connections off personal. (We’ve all met at least one person at a mixer that we kindly found an excuse to get away from. It’s a thing.)

Cons

  1. Your colleagues may become your friends and then you want to mix the two.
  2. You still have to be very careful with what goes on your personal page, because it’s the internet. Even if you think it’s hidden, that doesn’t mean it is. I recently had a guy blame me for him being kicked out of a private group. (He totally isn’t responsible for his own actions, of course.) He then found me through the friend list of the admin who gave him the boot. The moderator had their friend list hidden, but he was still able to access it and found me, both to let me know he blamed me for getting removed and to neg on my career.
  3. The relatives you’re trying to keep on just your personal page can still find your personal pages and like/follow them. (I haven’t had this happen to me yet, but it’s happened to some of my friends.)

Telling your relatives what is and is not ok

This option is very customizable and personal. Your older relatives will appreciate (and hopefully respect) the effort you go through to establish boundaries with them directly.

Pros

  1. Pretty much everyone feels more appreciated by this one. Communication solves almost all of the world’s problems.
  2. You get to set your own personal boundaries. (Note: earlier me saying that I love it when my relatives comment with relevant and engaging comments. You might not. This way you can pick and choose what you and your family feel most comfortable with.)

Cons

  1. They might not listen. This could be an accidental misunderstanding or willful disregard of your boundaries. Use your discretion to figure out which it is and how to appropriately respond.

Separating personal and professional by social media sites

Personally, I make my Facebook a blend, since I already had one before I started my career. I also made a professional page on FB and I keep my Twitter and Instagram 100% business.

Pros

  1. It’s easier to personally keep track this way. I don’t put anything on my Insta or Twitter that I don’t want my colleagues or potential clients to see. (I do drop the occasional four-letter word which I probably shouldn’t since I’m also a music teacher, but I am mostly a composer and we aren’t exactly known for our clean mouths.)
  2. You can honestly say “Oh, I never use my *Insert any social media site other than Parler here* for anything other than business.” (Seriously though. Don’t use Parler. You don’t need an echo chamber.)

Cons

  1. You might miss out on some really fun posts from friends and family if you aren’t willing to budge a little on this one. Consider still following people you care about, especially on Insta.
  2. You might also miss out on things that can benefit your career if you don’t choose your sites wisely. It’s a balancing act.

Deleting or Blocking relatives

This is the most drastic step. It can help if a relative has repeatedly refused to follow your guidelines, but it can also really hurt people’s feelings and strain relationships. (Not going to lie though — I have a couple of family members who don’t know about my professional FB page who I will block with zero hesitations if they find it and start commenting.)

Pros

  1. It solves your problem quickly and efficiently on the internet.

Cons

  1. It creates an awkward social dynamic that you will have to resolve offline.
  2. It’s hurtful. Only do this if it’s an absolute last resort, because it can really damage relationships.

In Conclusion

Social Media is a tricky beast. It can help your career, help you stay in touch with relatives and friends who live thousands of miles away from you, or it can contribute to political divides and violence. Like everything in life, it is what you make of it. So — get out there and use your online presence the way you need to use it. Talk to the people dear to you about how you prefer to use it and why. And most of all — try to understand why people use it in the way they do.

Now go use it to fix 2021 so it’s not an absolute dumpster fire like 2020 was.

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Stephanie is a Composer, Conductor, Soprano, and Activist currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Follow her on Twitter @StephSWilkinson.

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Stephanie Streseman Wilkinson

Stephanie Streseman Wilkinson

Stephanie is a Composer, Conductor, Soprano, and Activist currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Follow her on Twitter @StephSWilkinson.

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