Transparency and your online life

June 7, 2009
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14601830During the IDC Channel’s Council meeting this week we discussed social media / social web and its movement into the enterprise. In that discussion the disparity of beliefs on transparency, openness, privacy, and separation of business and personal made it obvious to me that we’re a long way from figuring this out. Not only are many individuals very uncomfortable with having business associates have access to information about their “personal” life, but they also were not, for the most part, monitoring their online personal brand.

Now I’m no personal branding expert, but I have done quite a bit of research on the topic over the last few years and have done a couple of short seminars on the subject, so I guess I can talk about it with some authority. At least from a personal perspective I have spent quite a bit of effort and time on building, monitoring and managing my brand.

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about today, except as it relates directly to the question of transparency versus privacy. If you want to dig into personal branding more, try this post by Chris Brogan or hit up Dan Schawbel’s Personal Branding Blog. As it relates to openness online, the

14601830During the IDC Channel’s Council meeting this week we discussed social media / social web and its movement into the enterprise. In that discussion the disparity of beliefs on transparency, openness, privacy, and separation of business and personal made it obvious to me that we’re a long way from figuring this out. Not only are many individuals very uncomfortable with having business associates have access to information about their “personal” life, but they also were not, for the most part, monitoring their online personal brand.

Now I’m no personal branding expert, but I have done quite a bit of research on the topic over the last few years and have done a couple of short seminars on the subject, so I guess I can talk about it with some authority. At least from a personal perspective I have spent quite a bit of effort and time on building, monitoring and managing my brand.

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about today, except as it relates directly to the question of transparency versus privacy. If you want to dig into personal branding more, try this post by Chris Brogan or hit up Dan Schawbel’s Personal Branding Blog. As it relates to openness online, the link is personal brand monitoring and learning how to manage your brand online… more on that later. So the core question is, should you mix business “you” with personal “you” online and how much transparency and openness is appropriate?

Personally, I’ve never really struggled with this much and I have at times been frustrated or confused by others comments around the topic. I am in general very open and transparent online and on most networks mix personal and business. I don’t often separate my life that clearly anyway, which seems to be a more common lifestyle these days. I think of it sort of like a mashup that blends personal and business much like the way I accomplish work or even think of working versus playing.

As the Internet grows up and becomes more real time, social, ubiquitous and mobile, this will just increase the level of the mashup IMHO. This is something I’ve gotten very comfortable with and I seem to manage things better when most everything is all blended. Not to say I don’t think and plan the image I project on these networking sites and in other online exposure; I most certainly do. I have a clear social media and persona branding plan and I try very hard to stay consistent with that.

To be most effective though, I think some of your personality and personal life needs to show through. The nature of online means that it is easier to put up a front and create a fake persona. Because of that, it’s more important to let some of your genuine self shine through if you want to build trust online. What I’ve started to realize, though, is that it’s easier to be genuine if you have a fairly rich online presence. Even with that I do manage certain things to remain centered and exposed only in a smaller group. That’s my approach, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody. That in part, is the beauty of the social web, it’s infinitely customizable at an individual level.

As you build your social media strategy and tie that to your personal brand, what are some of the levers you can adjust to achieve your own method of building trust and being genuine online? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Select the social sites you plan to use and define each in the context of your life plan. Answer questions like how do I plan to use the site, what do I want to get out of using the site, how often will I update / participate in activities on the site and what image do I want to project?

2. You can use privacy settings and groups on most sites to control who sees and has access to what. Determine how you want to use them and make sure to test that you’ve set them up correctly (try to see what is publicly available and also have a friend check their access to information. You might even want to adjust the friends access to check a few different settings to make sure they do what you think they do).

3. Twitter is one of my favorite tools but its power can also be use for evil (ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but…). Remember that anything in the public timeline is searchable and viewable by all. @replies are not private, either. Twitter is not the place for open conflict. You can of course disagree with someone and have a conversation around the topic (this is one way you appear genuine, by joining the conversation and adding value you raise your stock in the community), but remember this is like having a very loud discussion on stage in front of millions. Do not let the discussion turn into a shouting match, no matter how right you may be, you will look bad for letting things get out of hand (again, think of having this shouting match on stage with an audience).

4. If you participate at all online, it’s naive to think you are completely private; it’s just not the nature of the social web. The default mostly is open, not closed. Manage and monitor (Google alerts are great for seeing a daily name search, you might be surprised what you find).

I’m sure there are a bunch of other best practices, but this is a start. The real point though, is to (1) be aware of your online presence, (2) if you’re online, you are adding to your (or detracting from) your brand, (3) don’t let your online presence grow on its own; build a strategy and execute it consciously. I’ve had comments like “of course you as an analyst have to manage your personal brand but as a (fill in the blank), I don’t need to worry about that.” If you believe that you are making a huge mistake , in both your personal and business life. Today when a job applicant submits a resume, the minimum standard is to Google their name and check a few social sites. The same is probably true about meeting / dating someone new as well. When they Google you what will they find?