When our CEO first introduced this social experiment I thought to myself, “Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no turning back.” The past four years of tweets and status updates are back to haunt my professional future.
In the beginning, I was slow to adopt social networking. My first exposure was working with a K12 school setting up a content filter to block students from accessing Friendster. The idea of taking part in an online popularity contest was extremely unappealing to me at the time. It was not until 2008 when my employer asked me to look into what it would take to write a Facebook application did I reluctantly sign up for a Facebook account. It did not take long before people started friending me. When my son was born, social networking made it so easy to the make the announcement and share the photos. There was no going back. I was hooked.
Next came Twitter. I was never into journals / diaries but 140 characters was a great way to chronicle daily events. When I traveled to India, it provided a way for family and friend to follow my daily adventures (keep tabs on me). The sobering moment came right after that trip — one of my current co-workers found me on Facebook and Twitter.
Previous to that moment, social networking was my semi-private playground of just people I had a personal connection with. Before long, more co-workers found me and then it spread to people I was actively working with at client engagements. Now my social networking accounts were a major liability.
You don’t want to refuse a friend request from someone you work with. That would be rude, right? However at the same time you do not necessarily want them to know you got 2 hours sleep the night before because your child had the flu which you are now most likely a carrier of and will be spreading it to them and lets not forget the photo of you in a Speedo which seems completely normal to your triathlon friends when they tag you in it. And it is very uncomfortable when someone from your professional life comments on it in the meeting Monday morning. Facebook access controls are a great idea, but you soon find out there is nothing stopping mutual friends from posting, and their access controls are non-existent. Plus they have many of the same friends.
Now your present employer (Domo) throws out a challenge to become more social. Ever since that moment my Facebook, Twitter and Linked are exploding with friend requests. Now an unprecedented number of people have access to my data and because of the push (to be more social) I’m adding social networks like foursquare to my list. Now my location is available for all to see and now not checking in at the office on foursquare is like not showing up to work that day.
My Twitter account has been added to public list of company employees for the world to see. Now all those great rants about my mobile phone provider’s network dropping my calls, the airline that lost my bag or the auto manufacture’s warranty that never seems to cover anything, are a liability to me and my employer. What happens when one of those companies finds my tweets and it costs my company a deal? Will that cost me my job? What will it cost me in the future?
The re-nationalization that this social experiment has driven home is, I am a brand. Just like a major corporation carefully manages its identity and perceptions online, I need to as well. That means watching all my activity feeds, unfriending / following people that regularly post views I don’t want to be associated with. Every tweet, check-in or post is carefully vetted (spell and grammar checked). Rants have been replaced with teachable moments and the comments about my automotive warranty’s shortcomings stay between me and the clerks at Autozone. Now the challenge is to maintain the best possible image while still trying to be interesting, engaging, and real.
Social networking has become a much less intimate forum for me through this social experiment but in the end that is a re-nationalization that I would have had to come to eventually on my own, that and to stop swimming laps in a Speedo. So with the being said please follow me on Twitter. I’m @andybeier.