We live in a world where everyone has an online profile, but when it comes to managing your digital personality, how can you keep a sense of identity without overstepping the mark? How far is too far, when it comes to being yourself?
This is a particularly cloudy issue because of the wide variety of different ways that people communicate online. There are outlets that are obviously professional, such as LinkedIn or company websites, as well as those that are (hopefully) private – for example Facebook, provided of course you have the right privacy settings. But there are those grey areas that seem to sit somewhere in the middle –blogging or Twitter, which you may be using in a “personal capacity”, but which more often than not, are available for consumption by all. With such a wide variety of online communication outlets, how do we work out what is appropriate and what is not?
This is something that I’ve given a lot of thought to, with regards my own communications. For instance, I regularly blog for a politically aligned website around financial issues. While generally fine, and something my boss is more than happy for me to do, when blogging for our Sermelo website, these topics may be inappropriate. I may be a staunch [insert political persuasion here] – but that doesn’t mean that the company has any political bias. This seems relatively straightforward, but as my political commentary can be easily found, I also need to take some care as to how I’m presenting my views. While I may be writing as Sara for the politics blog, I need to remember that anything I write may be associated with me in a professional capacity.
Equally, this is something that can be quite difficult to navigate on social media, particularly when it comes to Twitter. My Twitter account is something of a mixture between personal and private. I tweet my personal opinions, not Sermelo’s, but again, I need to be aware of what I can and can’t say. For instance, I’d never swear on Twitter because clients and prospects sometimes follow my account. At the same time, it is a personal account – so I don’t want it to read like I’m a corporate drone. Somehow, the right balance has to be found.
All in all, it seems like managing an online profile is a delicate balancing act of working out what is and is not appropriate for each channel. Creating a public image that is a credible intersection between the ‘personal’ and the ‘professional’, that is ‘you’, but not so ‘you’ that it’ll get you into trouble requires good judgement.
And get you into trouble it certainly can. Mistakes in the digital world have both cost people their jobs and got them into serious legal issues. In one now-famous example, a social media strategist for New Media Strategies, thinking he was signed into his personal account, tweeted this from the corporate Twitter account for Chrysler:
"I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive."
The strategist in question was fired and Chrysler didn't renew its contract with New Media Strategies. So not only did he lose his job, but also caused irreparable damage to his former employer.
So is it possible to navigate the digital world but still keep your individuality? I think it is, but it takes work to get the balance right. And there are some basic rules you should always follow to make sure you don’t get into a digital nightmare:
1) Always check your corporate policy
Every company will have different guidelines about what is, and isn’t, acceptable. Some will expect that even personal accounts are treated as corporate ones, while others may allow personal outlets that are separate from work. Even those that allow non-corporate accounts will often expect you to adhere to certain guidelines with comments that are publicly available. If you blog outside of work, check what topics your company is, and isn’t happy for you to comment on. Also it’s important to remember that if you have clients, there may be certain areas that you shouldn’t blog on, not just for the sake of your job but also to protect your reputation as an independent blogger. For instance – writing positive pieces about a client who pays you, puts you into a very murky area editorially – particularly if you are blogging for a well known site such as the Huffington Post. If you own a company – make sure you have a clear digital policy for your employees to follow!
2) Always be polite and professional
It should go without saying, but never troll. Don’t personally insult people online, as it may come back to bite you. One PR professional recently insulted Grace Dent in a tweet, not realising that his company represented her. At this point, she pointed out that said company would be less than pleased to see him insulting a client. Politeness and professionalism costs nothing. Also – always think before you tweet. Many a person has come unstuck by tweeting something they thought was funny, when actually it was just rude. Take a second and think “would I say this to someone in person?” – if the answer is no, don’t say it online either.
3) Keep the personal stuff personal
Simple – if you want your Facebook account to be personal, make sure your privacy settings are right. Also remember that even if you have a locked Twitter account, those who follow you can still retweet by copy-pasting.
4) Think of the future
Regardless of your company’s current policy, it’s worth remembering that you probably won’t be there forever. However, things you say publicly can always be dug up online so don’t say something that could cost you a future job or a promotion. Don’t insult anyone you may one day want to work for, or who may be a client in the future. These days most people will do an internet search on anyone they may work with and you don’t want to lose your dream job because you said something stupid years earlier.
5) Consider anonymity
If you have a desperate need to write about something controversial you may wish to consider anonymity. A word to the wise though, staying anonymous forever is difficult, so think carefully before you take this route.