Is your casual persona on a collision course with your professional persona? Before blogs, Facebook and Twitter the rules were straight forward: Keep your personal life tucked away at home and put on your professional hat when clocked in at the office.
But the casual and professional are on a collision course, and the fallout to your career can be substantial if not managed properly.
When I started my blog back in 1999, few friends, coworkers or relatives knew it existed. In fact, I had to explain to them what a blog was, and most told me they already kept a journal and couldn’t imagine putting it online for everyone to read. Funny how many of those same people are now on Blogger telling everyone the gory details of their baby’s last diaper change or visit to the fertility clinic.
It’s only been the last couple of years that coworkers, friends and family have started to read my blog. It still feels strange when someone approaches me at church and says, “Hey, I liked your blog last Saturday”. I’d like to say I haven’t changed how I write and what topics I cover but that wouldn’t be honest. I’ve had to install a stronger filter to ensure I don’t damage friendships or get dooced.
With the proliferation of social media sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, getting your thoughts out to an audience is easier than ever. But it can also lead to many awkward situations.
For example, should you accept Facebook friend invites from employees who report to you? Should you invite your manager to be your friend? What about former direct reports you had to let go?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I can tell you what’s worked for me through trial and error.
Facebook and Twitter are easier to manage because it’s simple to block someone on Facebook or switch your Twitter account to private.
If you only want approved friends to see your Facebook profile, login to your account. Then go to Settings/Privacy/Profile and set your Profile to “Only Friends”. By default, everyone can see your Profile.
There are times it might be handy to block someone from seeing anything about you. Start by making sure you’ve not added them as a friend. If you have, go to their profile, scroll down the page until you see “Remove from Friends” on the left side of the page. Once that’s done you should see a link to “Report/Block this Person” to click on.
When you unfriend or block someone, they are not notified of your actions. You just stop showing up on their News Feed. Nice work Facebook!
In Twitter, you block people by logging into your profile and then going to the profile page of the person you want to block. On the right hand side of the page, under Action, click “block *name*. Or you can take your Twitter account private by going to Settings. Under the Account tab, check the “Protect my tweets” box near bottom of page. I block a number of spammers and porn purveyors.
Although these options are available, I tend not to block people unless they harass me. If you feel strange about accepting a friend request from a coworker or boss, don’t do it. I listen to my gut and tend to error on the side of acceptance because I assume most people are intelligent enough to separate their personal life from the professional.
But there are many valid reasons for taking precautions. Here are a few that would raise a red flag for me:
- Your company lacks a blogging policy – tells me the brass in charge probably don’t read many blogs and don’t see the value of having a policy in place. Having a blogging policy at least tells you someone in charge has thought about it. If your company doesn’t have a blogging policy, volunteer to help write one. Wouldn’t you rather have input on the subject than have HR or legal write it for you? At the very least, it gives you the opportunity to teach executives about blogs and social media.
- Your boss doesn’t read blogs – a big red flag. She may overreact to something that seems fair game to you. If she reads blogs, she may understand the casual nature and appreciate your creative outlet.
- Your boss has a Facebook and/or Twitter account but does not participate – This may indicate she uses those accounts to lurk. As I rule, I do not accept friend invites from people who don’t contribute to the conversation. It’s a two-way street and why add them if they don’t contribute?
- Your company bans access to sites such as Gmail, Facebook, or Twitter – Some companies monitor their employee’s internet usage down the sites they can visit. In such a case, I’d steer clear of work related topics on my blog and take all precautions on Facebook and Twitter.
- You can’t run a program without approval from IT– Do they ban MSN Messenger or Firefox or iTunes? If so, beware. You work for a company that wants full control of your online time, and they probably won’t appreciate your Facebook status update complaining about the printer jam.
On the flip side, you should be encouraged if someone in upper management maintains a blog. Companies such as 37 Signals, Sun Microsystems, and Zappos are examples of companies who have managers who blog and encourage their employees to do so. If your CEO maintains an active blog, you’re looking golden!
If in doubt, ask around your company to get a sense of the landscape. You might be surprised to find out how many of your coworkers have blogs. Doesn’t hurt to ask your manager if she reads blogs. She may suggest a good one you’ve overlooked. Just don’t jump in and assume nobody cares. Believe me, if you write something that gets their attention in bad way, they will care greatly.
But your blog may benefit your career as well. One time I interviewed for a position, and HR asked for a writing sample. I gave them the URL to my blog and eventually got the job.
Much of this is common sense. You should take the pulse of your company and determine how to proceed if you want to participate in social media and/or get your thoughts out there on a blog. Unless you take your blog private, assume your friends, coworkers and boss read it. All it takes is one lapse in judgment and you could torch your job. Of course, you could always write anonymously like Mini Microsoft. But that doesn’t interest me.
I view my blog as an asset. There’s a lot more about the real me there than any resume can convey. If someone reads my blog and decides I’m not a good fit for their company, I’ve saved myself a lot of time. I feel lucky to work for a company that doesn’t ban Facebook, Twitter or discourage blogging. I helped my boss start a blog and that gave me the opportunity to talk openly about the subject.
How do you handle such decisions? Do you add coworkers to Facebook and follow them back on Twitter? I’m interested to hear if you merge the personal and profession or attempt to keep them separate.