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.