27 June 2011

How social media is blurring the line between personal and professional

I am all about social media. I think it's a fascinating phenomenon and like the telephone, television and Internet, it is completely changing the way we interact locally and globally. It is shortening distances between continents and countries. (There is a flipside to this argument as well, and I'm getting there. Patience, young one.)

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Linkedin, Blogspot, Flickr--all of these sites allow us to instantly share updates with one another on everything from what we ate for breakfast to what we want for lunch. They have reconnected families, helped deployed troops stay in touch and even allowed police to catch criminals. They have spread the word about the good--the recent New York State Senate vote to legalize same sex marriage--and the bad--the devastating Tokyo earthquake.

But, and there's always a but, I'm a little worried about this overexposure. Especially in the context of job hunting.

Social Means Social

Social networking content is, at the heart of its very nature, meant to be shared. So if you swear like a sailor in your Facebook feed, it's out there for all the world to read. If you prefer to tweet inappropriate photos, then someone with half a brain and a Google search field, can find them. We only have to look at the dozens of politicians who seem to forget that online doesn't mean anonymous.

However, I believe that some social networks, which were originally founded as ways to reconnect and/or spy and/or stalk old friends shouldn't necessarily factor into an employer's overall view of a candidate when making a hiring decision. People have lost jobs because of their activity on Facebook; they've had job offers rescinded because of their comments on Twitter. I'm not saying these people shouldn't have exercised better judgment (they should have) nor am I saying that these people shouldn't necessarily have been fired (I think that's a case by case kind of call). What I am saying is that, if I have pictures posted on my profile of me at a party, enjoying a drink with friends, is that really damaging my credibility as a potential employee? If I dress up as something particularly hideous or risque for Halloween, I don't believe a recruiter should take that as an indication of my character.

This is why we conduct criminal background checks and call professional references. I believe these things can and will point out the folks we don't necessarily want on our payrolls. I don't believe people should be persecuted in the court of public opinion for gnarly Spring Break photos circa 1998.

[A word from our sponsor: Now, let me be clear before I go on that if someone is seen doing something illegal in a picture on a social network, I totally believe that person should be brought to justice. Just putting that out there. Now back to your regularly scheduled blog.]

Facebook as a Professional Network

What sparked this little diatribe is the announcement that Monster, one of only two major online job boards (since they gobbled up HotJobs) is preparing to launch a social network, BeKnown, on Facebook today. (Mashable article here.) In the article, Monster's global vice president for product, states that "you can manage your professional identity and your social identity in one place."

This is a bad idea.

And here's the flipside to that positive social media argument: while it has allowed people to reconnect and allowed the world to become a little smaller, it has also caused the decline of the "personal filter." Just as e-mail was the death knell for decent spelling and grammar, social media and its immediacy has all but silenced the voice in our heads that whispers, "Are you sure you want to post that? Is that something the world needs to know? Do you really want to drop the F-bomb that many times in a 140 character tweet?"

Because it's so easy to publish every stray thought, rant, idea or hate-filled invective that comes into our heads, we have begun to do so. Appropriateness and decorum seemingly have no place in social media unless you're a celebrity or a brand and the wrong tweet could lose you followers, consumers or sales dollars. There have been multiple examples of this in the past few months alone: Gilbert Gottfried made a joke about the Tokyo earthquake and was subsequently fired as the spokesperson for Aflac; Roger Ebert made a remark regarding the death of Ryan Dunn and drunk driving and received such terrible backlash, Facebook deactivated his page for a time. Even as far back as 2009, 8% of companies indicated they had fired someone for their behavior on a social network.

Now, Monster proposes that job seekers actually send potential employers to their Facebook profile, on purpose, to further demonstrate why they should be hired.

Here's a radical thought: let's keep personal stuff separate from professional stuff.

I have a profile on Linkedin that I'm pretty proud of; I've got one on Facebook that I use to communicate to friends and family; I have a feed on Twitter that I use to mention random things that pop in my head and follow some of my favorite celebrities; I manage a blog on Blogspot and another one on Wordpress--I don't lack for social connectivity. And as a current job seeker, initially the idea of another way to reach out to potential employers sounded attractive.

I don't post wildly inappropriate things on my Facebook page or through my Twitter feed, so honestly, if an employer does stumble upon it, no big deal. But many people do. And using social networks to make contacts and get jobs and reconnect with people has already blurred the line between professional and personal; between what really is damaging to a person's character and what's really just a gag for fun. I don't think we should be further obscuring this line by encouraging a melding of our professional and personal lives on Facebook.

I honestly think it's going to do a lot more harm than good.

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