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Avoiding Digital Train Wrecks: Managing Your Online Image, Separating Personal and Business Worlds (Part I: Content)

February 19th, 2009

train-wreckSeveral people at last week’s Cisco Partner Velocity 09 conference in Miami (the Web 2.0 skills training sessions) asked us how they could separate their online personal and professional activities. They worry that the two worlds would overlap as they moved deeper into social media, with embarrassing results.

Others worry they’ll just say something that will backfire;
either way it hurts their reputations.
This is a growing issue, thanks to the way social media is evolving. Facebook is a crazy quilt of personal and business
interests and activities, which all flow through the personal news-streams. And on Twitter, rapid fire observations and comments may seem honest—that’s the idea, right?—but come back to haunt you (see Ketchum example below). It’s the dark side of the transparent web.

The good news is there are actions you can take to manage your online identity, while keeping your  business and personal presences separate (for the most part). This post will look at what you post, your content.

Once you have a social media platform—let’s say a blog or presence on one of the main SM platforms—take a step back. Review your goals and objectives—what are you trying to achieve? Who is your audience? What is your end game?

It’s critical you develop a content strategy that supports your plan. For instance, if you’re on Facebook and/or Twitter, primarily for business, think about what percentage business vs personal content you’re comfortable with. Too much personal posting will turn customers off, while 100% business posting may come across as stiff and impersonal; by all means, avoid heavy sales or marketing posts or spamming your network. You want to
come across as professional AND personable, someone people want to do business with.

I normally post about 70% business postings, and 30% personal. Within the business postings, the large majority of mine are about marketing, communications and/or social media. I’m careful as to the type of personal postings I do—no deep confessions or reflections on personal or intimate conversations. I will mention important personal events like my son getting married (in March).

Often I mix personal and business details: for instance, I tweeted several times as I was presenting to Cisco’s partners, the questions they were asking and so on. When I tweeted that I was losing my voice—no joke—one fellow responded back to “head to Whole Foods and get some “throat coat tea.”

The main point is to establish your goals and objectives before you start posting, and stick with it. Think about what sort of image you’re projecting on every post, and what clients, employers and other business associates will think. When you write about getting angry at your son’s football game and yelling at a ref, do you think you’ll come across as a concerned parent who’ll go to the mat for what you believe—or a raving maniac who can’t control their temper?

It’s easy to get carried away and post something too personal, or express your strongest feelings on a platform like Twitter. Be authentic but resist the urge to go overboard; in other words, think before you post.

Remember the Ketchum account manager who blurted out what he felt about Memphis, Tenn. (“…I would die if I had to live here..”) as he was flying in, only to have one of his firm’s biggest (Memphis-based) clients—FedEx—discover his tweet and lambast him for it publicly. Ouch.

Fedex’ response was brutal–some say over the top–and clearly, with Twitter, content can be taken out of context. But the lesson is clear: you need to manage your tongue carefully when posting about clients or business associates. Pretend you’re conversing at a dinner and they’re across the table.

One way to look at it, says Jeremiah Owyang, a Forrester Research Analyst is, “When you tweet, you’re publishing, don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face, and assume that your current and future boss, wife, and mother are reading it.”
The same rule applies: Think before you post.

Next,  mixing personal and business interests on Facebook.

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