Social media is a challenge when it comes to both your professional and personal lives. Posting to your social media accounts offers an often very public view of your opinions, hobbies, habits and attitudes. There really isn’t any separation between personal and professional anymore.
I have read many articles on the subject and have seen a couple of speakers say that you should keep your Facebook page personal and use LinkedIn, Twitter and other accounts for more public engagement with potential clients, customers, partners or employers. Well, the reality is – that’s not easy to do. LinkedIn is pretty straightforward; it is generally focused on professional networking and business-related topics. Other sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, aren’t so easy.
Let’s take Facebook as an example. How would you decline an existing or potential client or employer if they asked to friend you on Facebook? (And, if you haven’t experienced this, you will.) There is no easy way to decline that request. I have been immersed in the world of social media for more than 15 years – and I still haven’t found a good way to do it. That’s because turning someone away who has a connection to you does not build a good relationship. And it can look like you have something to hide.
The fact is, you can set up your privacy settings to stop some people from seeing all or some of your posts, but I know very few people who actually do this. While the person isn’t informed that you have done this, if they are paying attention, they might notice. And that doesn’t stop someone from tagging you or sharing inappropriate information and others seeing it. You have to be really on the ball and vigilant to make this work.
In working with clients, we have done social media audits that have turned up images of board members sitting beside someone smoking marijuana, senior staff drinking wine from a bottle, and several other pieces of information or photos that could damage their professional reputations. You can’t control everything and, for the most part, these kinds of things can be easily explained or put into context, but sometimes you don’t get that opportunity.
I have been on Facebook for a long time and I have friends, family, colleagues and both past and current clients as my Facebook friends. And while I do share some personal things, in the back of my mind I always ask myself – what if this ended up on the front page of a national newspaper… would I mind? We have a social media policy at AHA: We don’t post when we are sad or mad. And, for the most part, we focus on the positive. Even in a negative or serious situation, you can find something to say that is constructive.
The fact is, there is no longer a boundary between what you do in your personal and professional lives. They have blurred together. When you speak to young people in the workforce today, they expect the people who lead the organization to be transparent and authentic. More and more staffers are connected via social media networks – and often with their supervisors, managers, directors and the big cheese.
For the AHA team, we work closely with our clients and we usually have strong, positive relationships with them. Social media helps us build these relationships, as they can see who we are when we aren’t sitting at their boardroom tables. They can see who we are as real people. They are exposed to our values, our integrity and ethics in action – through example – not just from us telling them who we are. They can also see that we like to have fun, have a sense of humour, and they can learn about our hobbies and passions. For us, this is a benefit. People want to work with people they like and respect – and that’s a two-way street. When professional contacts connect with me on Facebook, I get to see who they really are too.