Social Media- Public or Private?

Yesterday, my friend Dan York wrote an interesting article about Facebook and religion, going into the pros and cons of revealing private details about religion and politics on Facebook. The main issue is that Dan uses his Facebook account for both personal friends and work acquaintances. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this debate- Manager Tools covered the same basic topic in a podcast from 2008 (the cast prominently mentions MySpace, but is otherwise still applicable). The Manager Tools argument focuses more on employers and prospective employers rather than co-workers, but it’s the same basic problem. Dan asked his audience to describe their own solutions to the problem; here are my two principals of social media.

Separate Services for Separate Audiences

Dan mentions some people having multiple Facebook accounts, and describes the problem about accidentally posting the same account. I agree that’s a difficult solution and too prone to error for my taste. Instead what I do is use separate online services for separate audiences.

LinkedIn is my purely professional online persona. It is only for business and nothing else. At one point LinkedIn had a facility to cross-post messages from your Twitter account, and they still have a service for making posts. I’ve never used these and never will. This is just an online resume. I connect to people who I have worked with in real life, and whom I professionally respect.

Facebook is my purely personal online persona. I’ll talk more freely here about the “taboo” topics of politics or religion. I talk about my family more here than the other outlets. I connect to friends and family. There is some overlap with work folks, but only where those people are also truly friends. If someone from a work context asks to connect, I usually deflect the request by telling them that Twitter is my main social media outlet, and invite them to connect to me there. So far this has always worked, and it has the advantage of being true.

Twitter and App.net are my public online personas. I don’t restrict my posts to business-only topics, but I filter what I say. I assume the world is reading, and sometimes they are. My boss and my parents both read my Twitter feed. It’s not a perfect filter, but I try (For example, during the last election a few political tweets made it through). This doesn’t mean I don’t post about personal stuff, but it does mean that I don’t post things that I wouldn’t want my coworkers, bosses, and business partners to see. This blog serves a similar purpose, although I try to keep it more focused on photography and technology.

Assume the CEO is Reading

The second principle I follow is to assume the CEO or a prospective employer is always reading. Everything I write goes through another mental filter. I try to never link to off-color humor, and if someone posts a drunk photo of me with a martini in my hand I’ll remove the Facebook tag in 10 seconds flat (it helps that there aren’t many pictures like this to begin with!). Why should I care? Doesn’t Facebook restrict the visibility of my posts to only my Facebook friends? And didn’t I say I only linked to personal friends, not work associates? Yes, and…
1. I don’t trust Facebook. Their business model is predicated on making information sharable, not hidden. There’s a reason they change their privacy rules every few weeks. Their goal is to make everything public- by choice or by accident, it doesn’t matter to them.
2. Someday, I’m going to get an awkward request from someone. What would you do if your boss or a potential employer asked to connect with you? You can always say ‘no’, but that brings with it its own set of problems- you can’t stop the other person from thinking “What are they trying to hide?”

But doesn’t this impinge my freedom of speech? Grow up, people. You don’t swear in front of your parents or your priest, do you? Your online presence isn’t the whole of your personality. Want to get drunk with friends at a bar? Want to tell dirty jokes? Want to rant and rave about a hated politician? Fine, have fun. Just don’t post about it!

These probably aren’t perfect answers to the public or private question, but they’re working for me so far.