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My Vertical Marketing Network coworker Valerie sent a thought-provoking email recently asking, among other things, how to — and perhaps more importantly, should we — juggle our personal and professional personalities when using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter? Her timing couldn’t be better. Social media policy is as hot a topic as the medium itself, and everyone seems to have an opinion. I never thought I’d recall the days of Friendster and MySpace with fondness, but social networking really was easier when it was strictly social. For many professionals, especially those working in media-related fields, it’s now required business. Or, so it seems for many of my peers. Their Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds are a continuous stream of carefully-worded pitches and endorsements, so much so that I can’t often tell where their work life ends and their personal life begins. Or, is it vice versa? If it’s hard to tell, rules of engagement are probably necessary. Because if the potential risks seem high for individuals, imagine what could happen to a brand or product caught in the social media snafu. And so, a word of caution: user discretion is advised.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud here, but it seems like we should social network with less of an emphasis on “social” and more of an emphasis on “network.” You know, that thing we do to develop contacts, hopefully to propel our own careers or the life of our business.
Make no mistake, the contacts are out there. A recent comScore study found that globally 75.8 percent of all women online visited a social networking site in May 2010; for men the number is just slightly lower at 69.7 percent. Nielsen reports that in US households, more than half of the adults online (75 percent) have at least one social networking profile. Businesses not taking advantage of this are missing a major opportunity to engage with consumers and even gain new customers. Should businesses and individuals craft the images they put forward? Absolutely! How to do this is a little more complicated, since it’s unrealistic to think individuals are not going to interact with coworkers and possibly even potential clients using these mediums, and it’s unfair to expect your colleagues to wear their work hats 24/7. For reasons such as this, I have several friends who operate two Facebook profiles, one for friends and one for everyone else, be they bosses, parents or the creepy guy from accounting. That seems a little extreme, though, not to mention complicated.
Social networking is exciting and culturally relevant, and it offers users a myriad of opportunities to exchange ideas and information. But, it’s not without pitfalls. Valerie related the oft-circulated story of a young woman being offered a high-paying tech job, only to have to offer rescinded after tweeting about “selling out for the big bucks.” I’d like to think comments like that are made in jest, but that’s beside the point. Context is often lost completely in the party that is social networking, which is why you should never put anything on the Internet you don’t want everyone and anyone to see.
There is no such thing as privacy online, and as hard as that is for individuals to swallow, it’s an especially important lesson for businesses as to why they should hire communications experts to embark on building fan pages and social networking platform voices for them. In the virtual world, perhaps more important than knowing thy self, is knowing who is representing you and making sure they are clear about the image you want to project.