The current state of social media encourages multiple personality disorder—one profile for friends on MySpace, another for your business life on LinkedIn and yet another for Twitter. This has allowed individuals to create multiple personalities of themselves and their companies online. But the future of social networking will eliminate multiple personalities by promoting “single profiles” and single logins to sites that not only aggregate your online life (such as FriendFeed), but that actually update your life across all social media platforms simultaneously (such as Ping.fm). Individuals and businesses will only have to choose one “authentic” personality that will permeate across all of their social media interactions. This consolidation does make it more efficient for individuals and businesses to update their information and publish content in real-time, but it raises the issue of privacy and separating employee personal lives and business lives separate.
In terms of managing the newest way of social media, companies and individuals need to set guidelines for themselves, as this social media phenomenon is here to stay. As an individual, consider the following tips and considerations:
- Recognize that all material you put on the Internet is fair game to be seen by your employer. An article you link to on Twitter, or Facebook pictures from a Friday night out, will be seen by the same people who view your Linkedin profile.
- Each social networking tool may be tailored for different aspects of your life, but that doesn’t mean those walls aren’t being broken down as social media continues to grow.
- To separate your private life from your corporate life, set your Facebook and MySpace profiles to private, and have the same filter you have in the office for your online identity. If you deem something inappropriate to discuss in the office, chances are it is in your best interest not to post it online.
On the company side, decision makers need to:
Establish a balance and determine how much they are going to respect the individualism of their employees. There is a fine line between allowing personal freedom amongst employees and ensuring that the company is being represented in an appropriate manner. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to handle it. Each company is different and warrants a different response. How a company or organization handles these personal matters can go a long way in building a strong rapport with current and future employees.
Make it clear to their employees. Companies should institute immediate and concise guidelines for all social media platforms. For example, creating a corporate blog policy makes it clear to employees what expectations are for writing or commenting on a company, third-party or personal blog. Examples of rules and guidelines are respecting your company’s confidentiality agreements, respecting your employees and clearly stating if you are stating your personal beliefs rather than company policy or viewpoint.
Avoid as much gray area as possible, which prevents a great deal of trouble and conflict in the future. However, with the Internet changing on a daily basis, it is almost impossible to predict and regulate every situation. As long as there are guidelines in play for employees to understand from the beginning, there will be less debate over what is right and wrong in the eyes of the company.
Curb their desire to over-regulate or strike fear in employees. Too many restrictions or fear of retribution can stifle valuable participation in social media and online forums. It’s important to find a balance between “control” and “open participation.” If the pendulum swings too strongly in either direction, there can be negative repercussions for both parties.
At the advent of the Internet, the philosophy was “No one knows you’re a dog on the Internet.” In the realm of social media, everyone knows who you are, and who your friends are. The era of anonymity on the Internet has come to an end and individuals and companies must both contend with their lives and businesses being broadcast in the harsh open light of the public eye. There are still opportunities to separate private and public personas, but individuals must make a conscious effort to make the separation and no longer assume that those multiple personalities can live in harmony in an open Internet.
Sandra Fathi is the founder and president of Affect Strategies, a public relations and marketing firm based in New York. Affect Strategies focuses on results-driven PR and marketing for small to mid-sized businesses in the technology sector. To find out more about Sandra and her company, visit www.affectstrategies.com , read her blog www.techaffect.com, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can be found on Twitter as @sandrafathi.