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The Boston Globe

Business

Etiquette at Work

Keep image consistent on social networks

I recently asked Anna, “What do you mean by congruency equals trust?” Anna, a fifth-generation Post, teaches business etiquette seminars for companies all over the United States, and I’ve come to rely on her for explaining the intricacies of social networking and how people can screw up their business — if not their personal — lives, by what they post online.

One of the most important qualities you develop with the people in your life is trust. Trust is built over time. Trust evolves because you engage in actions that engender confidence. As a result, people are comfortable with you, and when done consistently, that grows trust in you. And that’s where the concept of “congruency equals trust” in social networking comes in.

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These days you have a variety of places you might share your virtual image: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. While these sites provide multiple ways to interact with your online community, they are also a two-way street. Others can interact with and see you. And that’s where congruency comes in.

You don’t need to be your work self on personal networking sites, but your basic values still need to be present. If your image on LinkedIn is of a hard-working, positive person, but the comments and photos you share on Facebook or Instagram belie that image, who is the real you? There’s no congruency between those images.

That’s when confidence in you can be sidetracked and trust lost. And once that trust is lost, getting it back again can be very difficult.

Say your image is that of a team player at work, but you regularly complain and gripe about work and your boss on Facebook. When colleagues or your boss see (or are told about) your Facebook posts, how does that affect their image of you? Who’s the real you? Can you be trusted?

In addition to developing a consistent image of yourself across your social network, remember: Don’t assume anything online is private or reserved for just a few select people. You can’t control who sees things you have posted. Anything you post can be copied and show up anywhere once you have posted it.

That’s it: two key guidelines to follow as you build your online presence. Congruency equals trust and nothing online is private.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.

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