A couple of weeks ago I was in a classroom full of entrepreneurial MBA students, as a guest speaker, answering their questions about me and Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, this blog, and so forth.
When they asked me how I managed my online self in social media, my response went something like this:
I don’t do social media clutter. I think of social media as publishing and I try to offer nothing that isn’t useful to a reader. When I’m on Twitter I tweet only what interests me and might interest somebody else. I highlight blog posts I wrote and posts I read that seem worthwhile. I ask questions. I sometimes share something useful about business planning, or small business. I use TweetDeck to manage my Twitter self, and I set TweetDeck up to share that with my Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
Several of the students seemed troubled. One of them asked: “So you never post anything personal? What about who you really are?”
And I realized, with that question, that maybe I was lucky. I got into social media late in life. The topics I care about are business related, and my friends are business related. I was already a published author and business owner. I wasn’t ever tempted to post the kind of personal stuff that gets younger generations in trouble. I was always aware of it as publishing, not just gossip. Most of the students, on the other hand, started on Facebook as high-school or university students. Facebook was fun first, business, if at all, only as an afterthought, later.
So here’s my advice: your social media presence is public. It’s publishing. Never clutter it up with personal trivia, much less drinking parties, embarrassing pictures, inappropriate comments, or anything your adult self might not be proud of. Use phone, sms, and instant messages for playing around with friends. Build a social media presence you’ll be proud of when your next prospective employer, boss, or client looks into it.
Oh, and by the way: you don’t have to call it personal branding. You can just call it taking care of your reputation.
Thanks, Tim, this is great advice. May I just add one other point? Even if there’s nothing scandalous or embarrassing in your social media stream, mixing business and personal posts makes it harder to tell a coherent, compelling story around your brand. When one tweet is about today’s special and the next tweet is about your high school reunion, you make your audience work too hard to follow the storyline that really matters. Good storytelling is about cutting out the distractions — and your personal life is a big distraction.
Thanks Robert, good point, good addition. That’s an interesting counter to the “public private stuff” suggestion in Daria’s comment, and my comment agreeing. I appreciate the views here, good stuff, thanks for the additions.
You’re absolutely right when you say that “your social media presence is public.” Call it reputation management or personal branding, it’s who we are.
That said, I don’t agree with you that it’s not also personal. Because people talk to people, and having personality matters. While drunk tweeting and embarrassing photos are never a good idea to have floating anywhere, there are others parts of our non-work selves that there is valuing in sharing. I call it the “public private” stuff, and it gives context to who we are and enables connections to become deeper and more relational. (Like my love for baseball or the fact that I’m going to the opera tonight.)
Thanks Daria, I like your “public private stuff” idea, and I think it makes sense. Other parts of our non-work selves that have value in sharing. I think that’s an excellent addition, and actually, something I’ve also been doing. You mention baseball and opera, and I tweeted last Saturday that I’d just been to the Penn and Teller show in Las Vegas, and liked it. Just as you suggest, I think that’s also adding value because it’s potentially interesting to other people, but still “public private,” and still essentially publishing, not gossiping.
I agree with Robert’s comments. I recently created a second twitter account that I use as a channel for my consulting business. I now post all business-related content there, share it with LinkedIn often, and use my original account for my personal (but still publishable) interests.
Concur, Tim. I advise my students to be professionally personal. Never post anything, anytime, anywhere that you would not be comfortable with anyone seeing. Bret
I’d be curious to learn aboutwhat your view is of having a separate Facebook/Twitter account for your company as well as a personal one for yourself – quite a few business owners I know have both and it seems to work fairly well, with things like special offers and business updates coming through the business side and more personal (though not inappropriate) updates through the personal page.
I agree with your post, mostly. I subscribe to Daria’s approach. I like to infuse some personal elements into my social media updates. It offers a layer of humanity that is necessary, especially for professional service providers like me. I want to be seen as a human who can relate to my clients, not an institution. I realize that people are ultimately buying into ME. Many times, my personal tweets are the tipping point that causes them to hire me over someone else offering similar services.
The interesting thing is, I think one says as much about her personality by avoiding inclusion of personal items as if she were to put them in there. The advice “Don’t tweeting personal stuff” is akin to, “Keep your office sparse and functional; no photos of the family, no putter leaning up against the wall behind the door, no artifacts from a favorite vacation.” Guess what: that says something about you, too.
Social media brings down the false wall between personal and professional. Life is now what I call “profersonal.” Confining our social media selves to work generally doesn’t necessarily lead to a more distraction-free online reputation, just a more limited one.
You certainly have a point, and while I don’t post inappropriate content online I also keep my private life more private. Quite frankly it annoys me when people take what is supposed to be a personal social media outlet and turn it into business. Create a business profile and market with that. Don’t spam me with your marketing blather on your personal streams. Now git off my lawn! 🙂
I consigli son sempre buoni ………..se poi datti in un certo modo hanno più efficacia……Essere in mezzo alla gente è molto importante per poter crescere insieme a loro …. e trarne dei buoni insegnamenti………Apprezzo le opinioni di tutti …e ne traggo l’insegnamento per migliorare la mia qualità di vita.
Robert great points. Another thing I have been thinking about is the way people change their facebook picture as often as they change their underwear. I think of my facebook picture as my personal icon, my branding, so that when people see it they know it is me, my product. If you change all the time, it becomes very vacant, not easily recognized. Perhaps you could write about this in a future blog.
Bill Miller, Migrant Film Worker
author, heroes and hounds (www.heroesandhounds.com)
Great article and on target! I almost learned the hard-way why this is so important. Luckily for me I have great mentors who guided me past this mistake being made!
Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
As someone that works for a very large organisation, the whole issue of mixing personal branding, corporate information and personal news is a hot topic and I got my hand slapped early on in the process but nowadays it is seen as an acceptable practice, even tacitly encouraged.
After all, people buy from people and form relationships with people and not brands (except in some rare instances with great brands like Apple although they have a powerful brand ambassador with Steve Jobs so the two are totally interlinked) .
I tend to minimise the personal stuff I post via Social Media – maybe that could be because I have no personal life 🙂 but I do like to use tools like FourSquare and post about businesses and people I encounter in day to day life that have made an impact/impression on me that arent related to my work.
A professional presence goes without saying. But don’t you tend to avoid communicating with Tweeters/Facebookers who have no photo of themselves? I know I do. I don’t know who or what I’m talking to so I avoid commenting or sharing with them. In a business where relationships are vital, I believe that one’s social media presence should reflect the person. Therefore “professional personal” comments allow an insight into the real live being and not just a social media profile.
… so the plot thickens. There’s the suggestion of a business person, separate from your actual person, and then the suggestion that your business person, to be authentic, has to be your actual person. Life is so much simpler when or if you are who you really are, authentically, and that who you are is acceptable for your business.
Great comments here, taking on real issues. Thanks to all. Tim
For me it goes back to something Seth Godin talks about frequently: permission. I agreed to be your friend. I did not agree to be a prospect. Of course I want you to be successful, and of course I care about what’s going on in your business that impacts you personally. I’m not saying don’t talk about work at all because that’s a big part of everyone’s lives. For entrepreneurs it’s just a little more tightly woven in, and you need to find a way to integrate your business into your social media that doesn’t come across as a constant sales pitch.
Charles, thanks, I totally get that … there’s that disappointment that happens when someone you thought was a friend treats you as a prospect. I very much agree.
Tim, great comments on such an important topic. I always tell my students that they should never post anything, anywhere they wouldn’t want their Grandmother’s to see. But I do agree with Daria and Michele that bringing in the appropriate amount of personal information makes your content more authentic, more engaging, and more fun.
I liked the article a lot, id like to add my take:
Over-investing time (not only money) in image (management..) is in my view a decline business. All current trends point in this direction. FB, LI, Wikileaks peer recommendation and consumer reviews, etc.
The future of professional reputation management, the way i see it:
1. Professional (in the public domain)
2. Personal (in the social circle)
3. Private-most likely offline (only)
Many will by default choose to ignore the 3rd level, but that is in my view not a voluntary choice (FB’s ‘opt out’ instead of ‘opt in’ feature for example).
thank you for opportunity to comment.
I disagree 100%. If you were 100% business on Twitter then you get hamstrung. If I got to know you the person even if your publishing on Twitter was just so-so I might keep following you, giving you a chance to do business with me. But since I already have way too much incredible content to consume from incredible smart people and business news and industry news, if you are 100% business good chance I won’t keep following you.
Plus since we see only 5% maybe of the tweets in our stream you had better have incredible content or I won’t look for you. Business is about relationships. If you are only a push publisher that makes you like a push advertiser unless again you have exactly what I need.