Where’s the line between your personal social networks and your business social networks?

Let’s assume for a moment that MySpace is the bar, Facebook is a backyard barbeque, LinkedIn is the office, and Twitter is the café.  If you’re like most of the people I know, you use at least two of these networks, often for different reasons.  You hang with friends in one place, clients or colleagues in another.  Just like in real life.

So what happens when you suddenly have business associates who want to join you for a permanent drink or invite themselves to the barbeque?  Unlike the cookout, Facebook doesn’t end when the sun goes down.  So do you accept them?  Is it possible to refuse a request without getting someone upset or even jeopardizing a business relationship?

Let’s make it even more challenging.  The company you work for wants you to use your social network to help call attention to its products and services, or perhaps those of its clients.  Now what do you do?  It’s one thing if you’re in the business of social media, and you’re trying to promote your own personal brand and expertise.

But you may have a network of friends and contacts with whom you connect on a purely personal level.  It’s possible that neither you nor they want to pollute that relationship with the equivalent of advertising.

Or does it matter?   Have all the lines blurred?

Inside my company, we encourage people to learn and master social media.  We offer them the opportunity to do so on behalf of clients.  But we never impose on anyone and respect an individual’s preference to keep his or her personal social networks exactly that, personal.   Yet at the same time, when a team launches a social media program or puts up a new fan page on behalf of a client, they inevitably send out the agency-all email asking everyone in the company to get with the program and share it with friends.

So here are some questions.  If you’re the employee, how do you feel about being asked to use your social networks for business purposes?  Is it an imposition?  Or do you consider your digital presence an asset that makes you more valuable in your job?

If you’re an employer, do you have a policy or is it a non-issue?  Would you go so far as to consider the digital footprint of a prospective employee when interviewing job candidates?  If you’re a marketer or ad agency, is a college graduate with 2000 followers on Twitter more interesting to you than one with 10 followers?

My prediction is that in the future, companies of all kinds will realize that their employees, who have always been their greatest asset, are even more valuable if they have the ability to help attract and mobilize customers and prospects.   And it’s likely that  social media — from Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter to whatever comes next — is how they’ll do it.

What do you think?

26 comments
Marc Meyer
Marc Meyer

Interesting question, we had actually been chewing on a different aspect of this last week in an HR Unpanel event on Twitter, in which the question was raised, "If a would be employer either asked to be friended or requested to be friends, what would you say? The easy answer is to say you don't mix business with pleasure; and that answer actually works well for your discussion but... What happens if you say no? Are you hiding something? Are you not a "company person" A lot of things can be construed just by hedging your bet and saying no thanks. But, I think it might be more of a problem for Gen X and boomers than it might be for Gen Y, and that's the biggest difference; They are already used to a certain level of transparency. So in a few years, it might not even be a topic worth discussing.

Marc Meyer’s last blog post..Don’t Blame Social Media

Jimmy Gilmore
Jimmy Gilmore

To misquote Scott McNalley "There is no social networking privacy. Get over it."

The internet has turned the world into a small town where everyone knows how drunk you got at the Christmas party. As Mark points out, there are tools you can use to limit the leakage but every town has a loud mouth or two.

This shouldn't mean you can't have an honest discourse amongst friends on Facebook. It may mean that certain topics should be avoided or that you may not want to engage/friend that drunk friend from the pub.

As a South Carolina state trooper once told me, "better act like your Momma's looking over your shoulder in South Carolina." On the internet this just may be the case.

Jimmy Gilmore’s last blog post..Good thoughts on media and Twitter. Even better response to Dowd

cody pomeray
cody pomeray

Thank you for sparking this discussion. In many ways I think that this is the most fascinating aspects of social networking – the impact that technology is having on how we view our selves and present our selves to the world.

The problem with trying to present one “transparent” self to the world through social networks is that people just aren’t that simple. Every individual is multi-faceted. An individual is truly the sum total of all facets of their personality – even the contradictory parts.

For example, I can tell the same story to my grandmother and to my friends. The fact pattern of the story might not change but the delivery absolutely will. I will present the same material to the same client in two completely different ways depending on who’s in the audience and the tone and tenor of the situation.

Changing your voice to fit the audience’s expectations doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of transparency or authenticity.

The choice is clear: we can either attempt to create an online persona that effectively presents our selves to all of our overlapping social circles (personal, professional, family) or we can try to keep those selves splintered by employing a variety of online avatars.

Either way, one has to consciously and carefully choose how they present themselves, knowing full well that anything and everything said on the internet may have consequences, intended or not.

p.s. it's unethical for agencies to sell communications products that they don't use or fully understand.

cody pomeray’s last blog post..Making Earth Day Less Boring

cody pomeray
cody pomeray

Thank you for sparking this discussion. In many ways I think that this is the most fascinating aspects of social networking – the impact that technology is having on how we view our selves and present our selves to the world.

The problem with trying to present one “transparent” self to the world through social networks is that people just aren’t that simple. Every individual is multi-faceted. An individual is truly the sum total of all facets of their personality – even the contradictory parts.

For example, I can tell the same story to my grandmother and to my friends. The fact pattern of the story might not change but the delivery absolutely will. I will present the same material to the same client in two completely different ways depending on who’s in the audience and the tone and tenor of the situation.

Changing your voice to fit the audience’s expectations doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of transparency or authenticity.

The choice is clear: we can either attempt to create an online persona that effectively presents our selves to all of our overlapping social circles (personal, professional, family) or we can try to keep those selves splintered by employing a variety of online avatars.

Either way, one has to consciously and carefully choose how they present themselves, knowing full well that anything and everything said on the internet may have consequences, intended or not.

p.s. it's unethical for agencies to sell communications products that they don't use or fully understand.

cody pomeray’s last blog post..Making Earth Day Less Boring

Robin Houghton
Robin Houghton

It's true there are two issues here - should an employee be expected to promote its employer's interests to his/her private social network, and if so, should the employer have the right to tell the employee what to say.

Personally I wouldn't ask either thing of an employee. Her social network is hers, I have no right to it.

It's simply not true that if you work for a social media agency you are either 'all in' or 'out'. We are all members of multiple networks, some overlapping, some not, and it's all about what we choose to share. Personally I don't believe that companies should impose in this way on employees, particularly if done implicitly by way of peer pressure.

Colleen Foshee
Colleen Foshee

These posts are making me think more about my own approach to the "get on board with this" message angle that can, is and will continue to be entangled within social media streams. Right now I'm handling it like I do outside the web. I share what I want, with who I want, when I want. However, I'll admit, face to face is easier to discern and navigate than the e-culture.

Lisa Hickey
Lisa Hickey

Wow, so much good stuff here, Edward. Thanks for bringing this conversation to the forefront.

I think the line is just going to get blurrier and blurrier, and here’s why:

1) People’s networks are going to grow exponentially over the next year or so. That will make them appear to be *more* valuable to companies and organizations. Especially when you consider that mainstream media channels will probably become *less* effective. Companies may start to become more aggressive, desperate even, in their attempt to *use* those networks.

2) A big part of the problem is due to “targeting” which is not a word that even feels natural when talking about “friends”. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? That I have friends who are poets who are going to be eager to hear about a book another friend wrote about poetry. But that very same “announcement” is going to be seen as spam by someone else. Or I work for a company who’s product I believe in wholeheartedly – but it’s just not for everyone. So is there a way I can get it out to the people who would find that useful, but NOT to those who might find it annoying? This will be the challenge of social networks going forward.

>only if you're interested< :) I also blogged about my personal experience with many of the issues you bring up in a post called “Brother, can you spare a network?”
http://lisahickey.com/brother-can-you-spare-a-network/

edwardboches
edwardboches

Kevin:
Thanks for an incredibly thoughtful and articulate comment/post. Agree with all you say about the employer/employee relationship. However, on the personal front, I wonder if it won’t become acceptable to still maintain your individual pov. For example, I have started accepting clients and or Twitter followers on Facebook. Didn’t necessarily want to, but didn’t want to reject anyone. I did restrict personal photos for friends only. (Hope that actually works.) But I still feel comfortable being who I am. For example, I don’t mind speaking out on politics (Go Obama) or on abortion (pro-choice) or on the environment (stricter regulations regardless of their impact on business) or whatever. I post stuff that might be controversial, in fact I often do that on purpose. But if someone asks to be my “friend” on Facebook I assume they like something about me. They can always leave, right? As for Twitter, I’m often unfollowed by people who declare in their bio that they are conservative Christian (not sure why they’re following me to begin with) any time I say something they might disagree with. One thing that many of these conversations have done is make me far more open minded to other perspectives. I don’t have to agree, but I listen and respect everyone’s right to their opinion (short of extremism that’s harmful) and then I try to focus on what we might have in common.

Edward Boches

Kevin Fair
Kevin Fair

As a long-time senior web developer working for one of the commenters above, I'll offer my 2 cents worth. I think it is the right of an employee to resist participation in the social web. However it's also the right of the employer to judge the value of that employee based on that willingness to participate.

I, for one, happen to be interested in the space and I see the opportunity for really interesting work and to chart a career path that didn't even exist a few years ago. I know that the only way to know social media is to be involved and engaged in it and doing so will benefit both me and my employer.

That said, I myself struggle with the balance between expressing myself in ways that are appropriate for a professional space vs. a personal one. I recently read an article that was related to blogging, but applies equally here as well. That is that it's unwise for an individual to express opinions about religion, sex or politics in a public space where colleagues, employers, prospective employers and clients may read them. This may sound like a no-brainer, but one of the things I have always liked about Facebook in particular is the freedom to express myself about exactly these kinds of subjects to an audience of trusted friends. Unfortunately, I think I need to reluctantly heed that advice and tone down the anti-[name removed for appropriateness] rhetoric.

Because of this struggle, I think that there are people who are very interested in learning and participating in social media but wish to keep some part of their online identity private. I think that employers should respect that. Provided that the person's professional activity and knowledge remain current and up-to-date (as appropriate for their position) their value to their employer should be undiminished.

The landscape is changing so fast that I think that employers need to continue to re-evaluate their expectations with regard to social media, and to communicate those expectations to their staff. Companies that do this, and employees that are eager to adapt, are going to thrive in the rapidly changing new economy.

Kevin Fair’s last blog post..791.jpg

Amy Flanagan
Amy Flanagan

Social Media might have changed the scale, but I don't think it has changed the situation. People have always been valued for their networks because social networks make people more interesting. Being a musician, a poet, a foodie, a poster designer - all these things create social circles and people who are part of those circles have an added value. If someone has created an interesting social circle through Social Media that would also help make them more interesting - and doesn't that always make you more valuable?
I also think it's fine for companies to ask employees to use their Social Networks to promote the company's interests. (After all, isn't that why "club memberships" and such used to be given to employees?) But I agree that you can not pressure employees to do so. Employees should spread the word on what they think is interesting or relative to their networks. If you turned them into a company parrot they wouldn't be very interesting, would they?

Amy Flanagan’s last blog post..Watching Bruce Springsteen perform it became more clear than ever.

Chris Wooster
Chris Wooster

Remember that the biggest social network is... the Internet. So from the minute we went online and perhaps forwarded our resume to someone from our personal email address, the lines became blurry. FB and Twitter (as the leading "networks" today) simply are forcing us to think about those lines in more refined ways.

But unless you're JUST jumping into FB/T right now you're probably already fuzzy; your followers and friends list reads like a gumbo of colleagues, clients, terrafriends and family. You can't turn back now without really confusing some people.

The key is simply controlling your releases of information, never posting anything you'd have to really apologize for, and actively maintaining your contacts, adding and culling frequently, deliberately, and even strategically. Oh, and keep an eye on your "friends" to ensure they don't embarrass you, by design or by oops.

Short answer: it's too late to draw lines. Embrace the glorious fuzzy with both arms.

Mark Heller
Mark Heller

Isn't the whole idea of social media to be social? If someone feels comfortable in sharing something then they will and if they do not feel comfortable then they won't, pretty simple.

It is up to the brand and the agency to develop a strategy that is compelling enough to inspire consumers to share information. If the brand understands and LISTENS to their audience and the agency LISTENS to their client then it is just a matter of execution.

If I choose to share something to the world that is my choice and if I know people that will be interested in something specific I tell them. Again, simple.

edwardboches
edwardboches

Some wonderfully thoughtful and articulate comments. It confirms a few things for me.
1. Whether or not an employee allows for business to cross into social should be entirely up to him or her.
2. An employer can feel comfortable asking, but never pressuring, which means it has to be really careful about how it asks.
3. There's a generation of social media users who willingly blur the lines and who also see their digital footprint as an asset to employers and clients.
4. But even in that case, they must be allowed to retain their own "brand personality" and voice.

Thanks all for the dialog. I'm sure it will continue, here and elsewhere.

Edward Boches

steve benoit
steve benoit

Great post and great conversation (glad you promoted it through your twitter account :)
I agree with parts of all of the above sentiments.

As an employee, I think it completely reasonable to be asked to spread the word about a project or product my company has released. And for the most part I would, and do, promote without being asked. The reasons are I enjoy what I do and I'm proud of what the company I work for produces (if I wasn't proud of it, I wouldn't work for that company). It's all part of ME as a brand.

Where I would draw the line is when I'm told how to present that project/product in my own accounts. My networks (on all social media sites) consist of a mish-mash of family, friends and clients and they all know me for who I am (agreeing with @tinsleyad here on the issue of transparency). If i'm going to talk about something I'm going to do it in my own style and in line with my own personality. It's pretty easy to distinguish a genuine post from one motivated merely by profit. Allowing me to promote something in my own way is part of what makes the endorsement genuine and helps it connect with people. That's the ultimate goal right?

Personal opinions (negative and positive) are obviously one of the biggest factors in a consumer's decision making process. My tweeting about something is another avenue for them to garner opinions, except they have the added ability to see more about me and my personality and how it aligns with their own than they would in a review on amazon.com.

I've previously lobbied for and sincerely hope that soon the day will arrive where, as an employee, my activity outside of my check list of duties will be considered just as valuable as the hours I log on my time sheets.

The days of a single sided campaign are coming to a end and it's being ushered in by social media. I believe companies that embrace this and hire employees who can help to promote their ventures will surely be ahead of the curve.

steve benoit’s last blog post..PortlandConcertPhotography.com

Dennis
Dennis

I think it still comes down to personal preference. I like to keep a separation between work and personal life. I have two different twitter accounts, one for my blog, one for everything else. I'm not really sure why I do it this way. I just feel more comfortable. Something about being able to control what work/family see, is a comfort to me.

Dennis’s last blog post..Gatorade Goes Animated With Tiger

Sue Spaight
Sue Spaight

Great post Edward. Somehow you seem to take the things that I'm not even aware of percolating in the back of my mind and bring them to the forefront. I do feel more valuable to my agency and my clients as I grow my social footprint, yes, and I hope more employers come to value it appropriately (I believe they will).

No one has had to ask me to use my social networks for business purposes - I'm in the fortunate position of making those calls myself and promoting what I feel passionate enough about to share and what I feel has value to those in my networks. I hope it stays that way, because it's the only way to maintain the integrity of the social environments and why people enjoy them in the first place.

Amanda Seyderhelm
Amanda Seyderhelm

I can always walk away if I don't like the conversation, just as I can turn off my computer, switch off the TV, the radio, close my book, fold up my newspaper. Have we forgotten that there is an off switch as well as an on switch?

Amanda Seyderhelm’s last blog post..Will the E-Book Change the Way We Read and Write?

Maggie Hunt
Maggie Hunt

We are a small agency whose employees have volunteered to promote the site through their social network - they feel that what's good for StockShop is good for them (and it is - that's what incentive comp is all about). Having said that, if anyone did not want to blur the lines, there would be no problem.

@BaileyMcC
@BaileyMcC

The lines are blurred. I think its best to focus on the type of communication and keep it appropriate to the channel. I'm not going to post status updates about my social life on LinkedIn and similarly, I'm not likely to post a consistent stream of business/professional only content on Facebook. I might do a little of both on Twitter.

We have the same kind of policy in the company,participation is voluntary, and we only ask if you're going to say you're affiliated on a professional network, that you don't use a drunk party picture to represent yourself. Everything else is pretty much open. For direct marketing I'd take it on a case by case basis and certainly woudldn't do it if it wasn't something I totally supported as a person and not just an employee. It's still my own name on those messages, not just some company.

@BaileyMcC’s last blog post..Above the Fold 04.22.09

Leo Bottary
Leo Bottary

Great post! I think the barbeque, bar, office and cafe metaphors are spot on.

We've always asked people to spread the word, and I think that's fair. What we as employers don't typically do, and have never really done to my knowledge, is prescribe how they do so. That's where an employer can cross the line.

Leo Bottary’s last blog post..Illustrate And Demonstrate

James Waldron
James Waldron

It's an interesting question you pose, and I've been pondering it from a personal brand point of view for a few months. My contacts span the realm of friends to clients, to influencers. This has become more interesting since I began ghost-twittering for a client, and blogging on their behalf. I guessed that my social media circle would not be too interested in fishing updates daily on my twitter feed, and visa versa. So I've split them and am experimenting on keeping them separate, 2 blogs, 2 twitter feeds.

Since I'm a newbie this seems like a good sandbox for me to play in.

Joseph Rueter
Joseph Rueter

Edward, Yes.

I think the line is where an individual puts it. The challenge comes because many of us are "new" to the space or in the very least many of us are looking at everyone else to tell us where the right place is to put "the line." All the while, it's all so new that there are few agreed upon "right" ways for doing this. Maybe what is "right" is just whatever the social community lets us get away with. Maybe.

Yet, this is an old problem, right? We've been working to mitigate this tension between personal and business for years. Maybe it's been since the beginning of the industrial revolution. What is new is how the analogue and digital worlds connect. It's weird to my mind that we don't try to act the same in both places.

Maybe we're having this challenge because the notion of something else is changing too. Here I am thinking that our definition of what it means to hold a job is changing too. Increasingly its NOT about completing a check list and MORE about the kind of person you are. I wrote about it recently here — http://is.gd/tS1r

The sociologist in all of us should be so excited we can't sleep with all this change. Does any of this resonate or push the insight forward?

@bradnoble
@bradnoble

I don't want any part of advocating for interests other than my own.

We launched SmallCanBeBig.org this year at Boathouse, and because I believe in the mission--many small, direct donations to pull local families back from the brink of homelessness--I announced it all over the Web.

I would have a serious issue with any client or employer who put pressure on me to do that. My social life is mine.

To address a different question in your post, I agree that the ability to advocate and influence is a tremendous asset to any employee, and therefore to the companies (and their clients) who employ those influential people. Not because these employees will actually advocate for their clients on the social Web, but because I suppose that if they are influential in the other spheres of their lives, they are likely to be influential as employees. Contributors. Leaders.

Going back to my first point, if I'm interested in my own brand and whatever credibility it carries, the last thing I should do is soapbox for a client whose interests are other than my own. I can't think of a faster way to undermine the very brand that drew whatever connections I have to me.

marksilva
marksilva

Agnecies proposing SocialMedia strategies and execution have to be all-in and on. Anyone that doesn't participate belongs elsewhere--either off the business, outside of creative, account, strategy and client management or on the way out of the business. It's that simple. Our role is to lead our clients in communications that convey the truths of their brands in the most dramatic and powerful ways. You can't do this as a bystander.

There are lots of tools to mitigate the private/public to personal/professional spectrum we all mediate. Abstaining isn't an option, it's just willful incompetence.

Couple of posts on this subject that might be helpful:

http://marksilva.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/whats-your-social-spectrum/

and

http://marksilva.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/dont-freakout-when-granny-friends-you/

Be Great. Cheers! Mark Silva, Real Branding

Andy
Andy

Edward,
I think the lines should be blurred between personal and business social networks. Social networks are about being social and building relationships. By having one online persona, people are more likely to see transparency in you or me. I use all of social networks for personal friends, business friends and potential business opportunities. It just makes more sense.
Thanks,
Andy

edwardboches
edwardboches

Marc:
Agree. Am noticing for sure that younger people have it all mushed together, and you can see that also in comments from people who embrace this stuff wholeheartedly. Also, there are companies like Office Max, which used its employees to start the spread of Elf Yourself. That was the beginning of the snowball. Seems to me that while companies shouldn't impose on employees, they should identify and use those who would willingly become advocates, voices and spreaders for the brand.
Edward Boches

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