Public v. Private

I love social media and I’ve been tracking the growth of Web 2.0 since its inception. My independent study in graduate school focused on blogging when many people still considered it a wasteland of angsty teenagers, geeky technophiles and middle-aged women posting updates about their cat(s).

Although, companies have slowly– and reluctantly– embraced social media in recent years, we’re still in a pivotal transition period. Industry leaders are still tripping over themselves to keep up with the competition while trying to fully understand why their Fortune 500 companies need social media strategists in the first place.

We are at a watershed moment.

Part of the reason I value social media is because it expands my professional presence beyond my title, beyond my desk. I’m not just a number cruncher; I’m not just the logistics manager. I have traveled around the world; my squash game needs [a lot] of improvement; I enjoy the humour of How I Met Your Mother.  Nonetheless, wait for it- there is a line, and that is where management is should be paying attention.

The question is not if we should incorporate social media into business. We’re way past that point. The question we need to ask is how?

Simply arming the staff with corporate Twitter and Facebook accounts is simply careless. Guidelines need to be put into place so employees understand what is in/appropriate and expected. What employees write publicly reflects on the companies which employ them. Even if their bios read, “My thoughts my own.” As Dorie Clark wrote in “It’s Not a Job Search, It’s a Permanent Campaign” (HBR): [Everyone] is also now expected to perform round-the-clock personal brand maintenance, and most people don’t even realize it.

As we move forward into the next phase of business conduct, we need to educate not only veterans of industry, but also newly minted graduates who have not known a world without the internet. I recall being shocked by a Wall Street article years after business casual dress codes had been adopted across the board. Apparently, some of the self-selecting audience of the newspaper did not realize that they ought not dress for work as if they were undergraduates ready for a hedonistic night in fraternity basements. Even as recent as two days ago, the newspaper ran an article titled, “Yes, Mark Zuckerberg Does Wear Ties Sometimes”. The Facebook CEO substituted his signature hoodie for a suit jacket and tie to meet President Obama.

I am definitely not saying, don’t have fun or don’t be yourself. I love fun and think there should be much more of it in the office. Just be mindful of your audience. Impressions count. Do your clients really need to see you dressed as a pirate dinosaur and chugging a bottle of vodka while riding a mechanical bull? Is it worth possibly losing a million dollar account or contract? (In both cases, probably not.)

Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. In 2012, she launched GothamGreen212 to pursue social media strategy projects. You can follow her on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Doug Woods.