The Hill Life: The Facebook Connection

When I joined Facebook in 2004, the product seemed like a passing novelty.  I had no idea that seven years later, I would have a personal Facebook account, a blog Facebook account, a blog Twitter, a LinkedIn page, an About.Me page, a Pinterest page and a Polyvore account.  And I certainly never believed that any of these things would become integral to my personal and professional lives.

Last month, I was walking back to my office from a briefing in the Cannon Building when I received an email from Facebook informing me that I had two new friend requests.  The requesters were two of the people (association members) who I’d just traded cards with at a 40 person event.   

I barely knew these people.  We’d met for 20 seconds (tops), and now they were Facebooking me at a breakneck speed usually reserved for the hot guy you met at the bar last night, not a passing work acquaintance who swapped contact information with you as a courtesy.

And this got me thinking, what are the professional social media rules?

Unlike some Hill staff, I have a strict policy about mixing professional acquaintances with my personal social media platforms.  I like to keep my work people on LinkedIn and my friends on Facebook.  And never shall the twain meet. 

I have my profile locked down like Fort Knox.  I deny more friend requests than I accept, so I have fewer than 250 friends. But unlike a lot of Facebook users, I know exactly who each person is and how I know him or her.  Only friends can view my profile information.  Only friends of friends can search for me.  And I don’t even use a photo of myself for my profile pic. 

Paranoid, maybe a little, but there are just too many stories out there about how over-sharing on Facebook negatively impacted a person’s professional trajectory for my personal comfort.

I see Facebook as a personal zone.  But even if you don’t subscribe to this somewhat radical position, you should be protecting yourself (and if you work on the Hill, your Boss) from social media overexposure.  Luckily, Facebook has something called “friend lists,” and I’m a big believer that work acquaintances who are not also personal friends should be placed on a list where they can only view your limited profile. 

The constituent who met you at a town hall doesn’t need to see your niece’s baby pictures.  The PAC bundler who you shared a drink with at Cap Lounge doesn’t need to read the content on your wall.  And the staffer from so-and-so’s office who you worked with on a bill that one time three years ago doesn’t need to know that you just kicked your Mom’s ass on Lexulous.

If you choose to mix business with pleasure on Facebook, segregating your “friends” into protected and prohibited classes makes good, common sense no matter what industry you’re in.  Throwing up a velvet rope allows you to share what you want with your actual friends and still accept friend requests from work colleagues.  Privacy, it’s a good thing.

And if you are one of those people who has their profile open to the public or open to everyone in your network, then we have nothing to talk about.  Except to say that when I was working off the Hill, I had to hire an intern for the Spring semester.  In a close contest between two possible intern candidates, the deciding factor became that one had a public Facebook profile and one had his locked down.  Why? 

Because allowing complete strangers to view personal information about you, your friends and your family shows a lack of maturity and good judgment.

Like many new technological advancements, social media needs to be used with caution.  You should either keep your page completely personal or use friend lists to limit what people who are not friends in real life can see.  You should also utilize every privacy setting available to you and make sure that you keep up with changes to Facebook’s tools, settings and privacy policies.  They change frequently, and sometimes the alterations can leave your personal information vulnerable. 

If you’re not careful, social media over-sharing can hurt your reputation, your career advancement, your chances of being accepted to college and grad school, or even get you fired.  But you can, and should, protect yourself.  So use social media wisely, and don’t be insulted if you wind up on a work colleague’s limited profile list.


    leave a comment

  1. Weliaslo says:

    I completely agree with every point you made! It cannot even fathom the things people choose to make public on facebook!

    May 11, 2011/Reply
  2. Rachel says:

    Well said, Belle. I think social media is part of a culture some people have “grown up” with, which some of us just barely missed. People who had Facebook throughout college seem to view privacy very differently than people who didn't get into social networking until they were already out of college.

    May 11, 2011/Reply
  3. Charleigh says:

    I too got FB in 2004, when it was still just limited to universities. Those were the days. Sure, I happened to collect friends after every party I went to, but it was fine because I was sure to see them at the next college affair.

    Fast forward seven years. Facebook kept adding more and more features, and you could never actually make yourself completely private. The bloody “friend suggestion” feature was finally the last straw. I made myself as private as possible to the very last available feature in the privacy settings, but people were still able to find me. I have an uncommon name too, so I couldn't hide amongst all the “Smith's” of the world.

    Last December, rather than to continue to feel guilty rejecting people's friend requests and deleting older relationships from amongst my current “friends.” I just said to hell with all of it and deleted facebook. If facebook made it just so that only I could friend people, and no one could friend me, then that would be swell and we might be able to have an amiable relationship again.

    May 11, 2011/Reply
  4. amy b.s. says:

    i totally agree with you. facebook is for friends and i only accept people that are actually friends. linkedin is for work. and even when i was required at my former job to have a facebook account, i opened another one for strickly work purposes. no way i want clients seeing a random post someone writes on my wall. i too have it locked down like fort knox. you have to!

    May 11, 2011/Reply
  5. CMB says:

    Interesting post. I also take into account what pictures are viewable on a facebook account when hiring people.

    May 12, 2011/Reply
  6. gingerr says:

    I'm not a huge Facebook poster but I enjoy keeping up with people. I don't have a secret non-work life and apart from the potential unflattering shot of my butt on my bike there isn't much for me to hide from anybody.

    I find that “friending” people I meet at work, particularly those who are users of my software system helps me to connect with them and maintain a friendly atmosphere without my wasting a lot of our work-time.

    We've had a lot of turnover lately with an infusion of young hires who are on Facebook. The fellow who logs his 7-minute mile doesn't look like a runner at work. How would I know that another gal has a new teacup puppy?

    It's a nice way for me to know something about my users. Things have been tense at work lately with a huge budget reduction and layoffs. Keeping things friendly helps.

    May 12, 2011/Reply
  7. Allison says:

    gingerr, what you said is really interesting. “I don't have a secret non-work life and apart from the potential unflattering shot of my butt on my bike there isn't much for me to hide from anybody.” I am like Belle, I have three different friend lists and seriously scrutinize my account. I mentioned this to a friend of mine from Columbia, his response, “what are you hiding?” While that hasn't changed how I manage my social media, it was an interesting point. I don't do anything to be ashamed of, so what if someone saw a picture of me enjoying a beer with friends? I do that at work happy hours, how is a facebook picture different? I don't do anything unsavory (dress like snookie, do drugs, etc) so why do I feel terror that someone will see my pictures? Well I am not actually that easy going, so I block everything, but it's a thought.

    What are we hiding?

    May 12, 2011/Reply
  8. Belle says:

    What am I hiding from? Nothing, but I am keeping somethings concealed.

    I don't need every person who steps into my office for a meeting to know that my Dad has cancer, that my best friend from high school is now a professional body builder who looks like an incredibly tan Hulk, that my Mom likes to tell me she loves me, on Facebook, all the time. That I'm obsessed with Broncos football, that I hate Jello, or that all my friends from college call me a nickname that I'd prefer the whole world not know.

    These are the things I share with the people closest to me, I don't want someone who I swapped cards with to know these things about me, because I still believe that there are friends and then there are people you know.

    Some people are just more private than others.

    May 12, 2011/Reply
  9. Belle says:

    Also, Google “got fired for Facebook.” You'll see that there are a lot of things people should have kept to themselves or “friends” that they shouldn't have friended.

    May 12, 2011/Reply
  10. K says:

    To answer the what are we hiding Q – A lot of things we have posted on our walls, tagged on pictures, etc. can tell a lot about the person and be used in ways we don't expect. The answer to many common security questions for banking and email accounts – mother's maiden name, pet name, school mascot, etc. can all be mined from a facebook account with lax privacy. This can also become a problem if your friends are prone to oversharing online. Something to keep in mind before friending that person that you kindasorta know!

    May 12, 2011/Reply
  11. Emily says:

    I've gotta say – when I'm hiring someone or doing some research on a guy who asks me out – 15 picture of them totally wasted in a bar with their friends or dancing on a table is never going to look good – just saying. I too have nothing to hide, but impressions and misconceptions can be created from anything. My work colleagues, including my boss are friends on facebook, so I try to keep it nice. If someone posts an f-bomb on my page, it's getting deleted. If there's a terrible picture tagged, I untag. I try to keep it real, but semi-professional and definitely g-rated. Honestly, as much as I would love to have it for strictly personal, non-work use, everything on the internet is public to some extent no matter your privacy settings – so you've got to be smart about it.

    May 12, 2011/Reply
  12. H says:

    I respect everything about this post, but would like to disagree for certain reasons. There are some on Facebook, like myself, who don't post much, occasionally put a status update like “Going to an even at the Kennedy Center tonight” or “Enjoying the White House Garden Tour” for more significantly fun occasions.

    What is there to hide from my coworkers about that? They see me every day, and there should be no reason for me to hide my facebook account from anyone. My chief of staff and I have been friends on facebook since before I came to this office, and there is nothing I would fear him seeing that is on my account.

    I think it's a little harsh to say “ANYONE” who leaves their account public is immature and lacking in judgment. I think it proves that we have exercised great judgement as to what is shared about us on our pages to the point that we don't have to completely hide our pages from coworkers and professional acquaintances.

    May 13, 2011/Reply
  13. Belle says:

    I work in a business where information that cannot be shared with others is placed in my care often. Interns coming straight out of college often don't understand that most of the things that happen in a Congressional office cannot talked about. It's like the first rule of fight club.

    A prospective intern candidate who does not make their wall, photos, and status updates private (photos and some short bio info being public is fine) makes me wonder if they understand the difference between what any person with an Internet connection should be able to see and what is not to be shared.

    I appreciate that many people are discreet about what they share. I am too. There is nothing on my page that could have a negative impact on my career or life. However, there is a safety and privacy aspect of social media that cannot be ignored.

    Fully public profile = no internship.

    May 13, 2011/Reply