I have been talking quite a bit about Facebook and social networking with folks and the topic of how best to incorporate your personal life into your professional personae has come up quite a bit. While the least complicated solution is to not mix them at all, and leave Facebook as a personal friend portal and direct any colleagues to a LinkedIn profile, however, that may not always be the preferred solution. For a large number of folks in the business world over the age of 30, social networking is something that is not as simple as it is for younger folks. Many people are a lot more cautious and consider who they add as a friend in their network, while also being concerned about what information they divulge online.
If I use myself for a minute, it’s pretty easy to find information about me online. Within the top 20 results you can see the top 10 social networks I use, where I work, some of the stuff I have done at work, and find out about my Liver Transplant just over 2 years ago; without spending more than 5 minutes looking. That’s all pretty superficial sure, but other things you could find online if you happened to be connected to me somehow on facebook could reveal a lot more once you consider what can be revealed by friends who might tag me in a photo or note. Just take a look at what’s happening to Michael Phelps right now, all because someone took a picture of him at a party and sold it. This could just have easily been launched by a photo uploaded to Flickr or a Facebook profile. Granted this would be a non-issue for the vast majority of people, but it’s a great example of how other people can affect your life in a big way with a single act.
So what do you do to control you online identity?
Put some thought into it before you jump in. This might seem like a no-brainer, but really? The herd mentality is why social networking flourishes, and why folks get in trouble with it. Think about why you are using it and what you would hope to gain, and even what you have to lose by becoming part of such a large community. How do you want information about to be shared? Who can view you profile and who can comment on photos, blog posts, your super wall… whatever. You don’t have to go all type A here either, but don’t just go and slap everything known to man about you up on the web and hope for the best either. Decide up-front how you will handle business and personal relationships, and where you draw that line. An excellent example of how a friend of mine makes the distinction is that if he has paid someone money to work for him, than that is no longer a personal contact, it becomes a business relationship and doesn’t belong on Facebook.
If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. People have boundaries, they get established, crossed and changed all the time and it is always helpful to be able to recognize your own. If you wouldn’t do something in person, then why would you do that very thing online? You’re not really anonymous online either…. you know that right? Make sure your friends know these boundaries too. If you don’t want your drinking buddies posting those shots of you totally blotto, dancing with Miss December 2005, then make sure they know it. I on the other hand am totally down with that, thank you very much.
Keep in mind how your employer feels about social networking and Web 2.0 sites in general, and work that into the equation. It’s just as easy for your boss to see that you posted on Twitter from the beach 3 hours after calling in sick as it is your friends, and I’m sure getting fired is not big on your list. Every company has guidelines for this sort of thing, as well as internal usage policies that will give you a real clue as to what the bosses think of it. Most likely it’s viewed as a threat of some kind, and is verboten. Itâ€™s just plain safe t not talk about work in any great detail unless you know for a fact (or have it in writing) that what you are blogging, tweeting, or whatevering about is cool with the folks who fund your lifestyle. Lots of folks have been fired for bad blogging, so make it a point to not join them.
Above all else I would just say use common sense. It doesn’t have to be an exercise in analytic prowess to figure out how you want to use social networking; it’s about having fun, wasting time on the web, keeping up with your friends, and expanding your personal and professional network. Just keep in mind that it’s a heck of a lot easier to get something on the web, than it is to get it off.