Rory Cullinan, right, with Bruce Van Saun, CEO of Citizens Financial Group, in September 2014.
Craig Barritt—Getty Images for Citizens Financ
By Susie Poppick
April 1, 2015

Unless you’re employed in the global banking industry you probably missed the recent announcement that Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Rory Cullinan will soon be leaving his post. Bloomberg, the Guardian, and other media outlets attribute the departure to a clash with other execs over strategy.

One intriguing footnote to the story, however, puts it in “There but for the grace of God…” territory for any working stiff who uses social media for non-business purposes—or, for that matter, any parent who struggles to stay connected to his or her social-media-obsessed teen.

That’s because about a month ago, British tabloids published screenshots of Cullinan’s Snapchat selfies captioned with “Boring meeting xx,” “not a fan of board meetings,” and “Another friggin meeting.” The Sun reported that Cullinan had sent the messages to his teenage daughter, who posted the screenshots to her own Instagram feed last spring using the hashtag #daddylikestoselfie.

Compared to other notorious career-damaging social-media blunders, Cullinan’s gaffe seems pretty mild. Some might even be charmed by this high-powered banker’s efforts to bond with his daughter.

Still, the Snapchat incident couldn’t have helped Cullinan’s relationship with his employer or coworkers, as Bloomberg’s Matt Levine humorously points out.

Even if the chairman’s departure is largely unrelated to his Snapchats, there’s a lesson in the whole episode—and for once, it doesn’t have to do with managing the security settings on your accounts.

Sure, it’s always a good idea to keep privacy settings high on any social media accounts. But the truth is you can’t always maintain control over your messages. Both Instagram and Snapchat have recently seen huge breaches involving images users thought were private. Recruiters report digging deep into the online profiles of potential hires, all the way down to their grammar and spelling. And the latest incident just goes to show that even if you are circumspect, your friends or family members might not always be so careful.

The thing to do: Wait a beat before publishing words or images, no matter the audience. Remember that something that looks innocent in one context could burn you in another. From the perspective of a potential employer, what you write is indicative of your character.

“When you’re hiring for a job, you have very little data about candidates, so every piece of data that you do get carries an enormous amount of weight,” says former hiring manager Alison Green, who runs the career blog askamanager.org.

On one hand, it’s frustrating that a minor lapse of judgement can negatively impact one’s livelihood—and that even well-meaning people have to worry that an old Tweet or photo could cast a shadow over their careers. On the other hand, the transparency of certain forms of social media can be a force for good, pushing people to choose their words more carefully, kindly, and responsibly.

In Cullinan’s case, that might have meant swallowing his work gripes until after hours, and opting for a simpler message like “I miss you.”

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