Two weeks ago was Bastille Day in France (July 14) and I went back home to spend some time with my family for the occasion. I was planning on a sunny weekend, walking on the beach, toes in the cool water. Well, reality was a bit different: four days of rain = inside the apartment under a blanket! And obviously, that gives time to “chit chat”. As always, my parents started to talk about Social Media and its multiple dangers: the security over personal data, the risk that a potential recruiter would find personal information, pictures…. Well, I agree that internet is a pretty good place to ruin your presentation if you’re not careful.
I am a Master student and I therefore have a specific vision and opinion of Social Media; in my mind, there is nothing dangerous as long as you know where you’re going!
The first question I asked myself was: which network do I want to enter and why? Whether you are an individual or an organization, the question stays the same. I am on the main networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Viadeo (a smaller French version of LinkedIn), YouTube, and MySpace. I use Facebook for personal purposes as sharing pictures from trips and keeping in touch with my friends. I use MySpace to listen to unsigned artists and listen to music not available on the radio. All my other accounts are strictly professional. I shared only professional information on them and most of my contacts there are PROFESSIONAL! I would say that my Facebook contacts are 95% friends and 5% professionals, while my LinkedIn contacts are 90% professionals and 10% friends/fellow students.
Organization or individual, this should be the first question: Who I am? Which networks do I want to enter and why?
When your strategy is strictly business-oriented, you have to check and monitor the information you share very carefully. Your profile pages are now your face, your voice, your clothes, and your attitude. Every so often, a 10-second glance is all you’ll get from visitors and a fraction of a second enough for the human brain to form its first impression. What impression do you want people to walk away with when they check out your profiles?
When you go to a business meeting (interview for a job, contract negotiation with new partners, etc.), you want to make a good impression, don’t you? You dress correctly, you come with your most charming smile and behavior, and you shake hands enthusiastically. How do you do that online? As far as I know, no hand can come out of the screen! Not yet…
The first impression is always very important, whether you meet the person in “real life”, or “IRL” (face-to-face), or on the internet. And presentation is essential! It is even more important to show your best profile online because you have no “body” to express what is behind your typed words. It is very hard to feel the emotion, the temperature, the humor on a profile page, and humans collect about 80% of their information about another person and their interaction with that person from non-verbal cues, which are largely non-existent on even the most dynamic web pages (that is why emoticons such as 😉 have emerged as a shorthand to convey what non-verbal cues are missing).
Although a bad face-to-face first impression can be (more or less) repaired with discussions, gestures, looks… a bad first impression online is more difficult to repair. The visitor (potential boss, colleague, business partner, etc.) may just walk away from your page and never look at it again. If you don’t know who visits your page and walks away from it without leaving you a message, how can you try to change their perception? An individual might lose a job opportunity; an organization might lose potential clients.
The first easy solution could be to clean up your profiles:
– Register under your personal name or official company name (pseudonyms don’t help building trust, and trust is essential!).
– Upload a nice (smiling/friendly) but professional profile picture (no bikini or cocktails around), or official company logo.
– Share relevant and interesting information about yourself, your firm, and your activity.
– Use language correctly.
Going back to my parents’ fears, one of the concerns about the internet is privacy. But this is also a problem IRL, isn’t it? You keep your personal stuff at home and talk about it in private only. Do the same online!
If you are business-oriented, you must understand that displaying your real identity is essential (no funny nicknames/usernames or fake avatars (unless it is your company logo)). But you must also know which information can and cannot be displayed. It is the same for organizations: you know that some information should just not be shared. Once you have thought it through and decided which information to give and what to keep confidential, stick to it: share the same information across the different networks. Do not confuse people by sharing only some data with some networks and different data- on different networks. Unambiguous, congruent profiles will help you build that first good impression.
Facebook, which is prominently featured in public concern about privacy, is not more dangerous than any other network. If you don’t want business partners to have access to some personal information, then don’t add them to your Facebook contacts and manage your Facebook privacy settings to share information only with friends to whom you have granted access. However, images are much more slippery online because search engines can find them even behind privacy settings, and an image search will collect images from all different kinds of networks, regardless of whether you want to isolate some pictures for your friends and others for your business contacts. If you don’t want a picture to be seen by everyone, just don’t put it online! Openness is nothing wicked when you have nothing to blush about. Email is a common way to share a private or personal picture, but it is only as secure as the person to whom you are sending it — and only as secure as that person will be forever, because digital images can never be fully deleted.
There are no bad or good networks; networks just have different purposes and it is up to you to use your good sense and logic to decide how to use each of them. Lack of information is no excuse because thousands of websites, articles, blog posts, comments, and tweets are available to help you sort through the strengths and risks of Social Media.
Another concern with Social Media is synchronization or what I like to call synergy. The power of these networks is that they are inter-connected. You can tweet something (on Twitter) and share it within a few seconds on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Foursquare, Flickr and more. Some people are afraid of such interaction among their profiles. To me, the problem is the same: if you don’t wish to have such flow between your accounts, don’t link them. It is as easy to link your accounts as it is not to link them! If you go to your account settings, you’ll be able to choose one or the other. However, if you do want to link them, and therefore create even more synergy among your multiple profiles, be sure to synchronize your usernames! Both organizations and individuals want to be clearly identified, so you should use the same names for all your accounts– for example, you don’t want to be known by your childhood nickname on Facebook and your company title on LinkedIn. Also, LinkedIn doesn’t allow company profiles; for that reason, you should visibly display on your LinkedIn profile your position in or relationship to your organization. It is the company’s job to decide which LinkedIn profile should be linked to its Twitter account; it can be the CEO or the Marketing Manager, for instance.
And what about reputation, would you say? Well, reputation is one of the most important and most fragile dimensions of your web Identity. Word of mouth (WOM) can build a strong and positive image… or destroy your image with the exact same tools. In order to prevent that, you must be VERY careful of what you say and how you say it (always use polite and respectful language), listen carefully to what is said about you, and be sure to revise or explain your comments if needed– always in a smart and polite way!
Building or reconstructing web reputation for organizations will be the topic of another post– feel free to send me your insights!
The real matter is not the internet’s capability or the network’s possibility and functionality. It is the way people and firms/brands use social networks. Well-informed users will be able to secure their profiles and understand the power of the information they share. Well-informed users won’t be afraid of Social Media because they’ll prepare their entry before jumping!
Any thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment just below!