Reputation Management and work life balance

I was prompted by a friend to answer a question regarding reputation management on A lot of my personal and professional connections have asked me this question, but I didn’t walk them through some of the social details included in my answer below.

This is the ‘softer’ side of reputation management. It isn’t about SEO, RSS feeds, or API data. It is about the cultural and social side of reputation management: the part that affects how our private and professional lives interact.

The original question:

It’s not personal it’s business…or is it: Has social media eliminated the existence of ‘Strictly Professional’ relationships?
Social media has comfortably melded (or dangerously blurred) the boundaries between professional & personal environments. Has this caused one’s personal life to become an integrated part of one’s professional persona?

My Answer

I believe you have to measure this question with a healthy dosage of cultural perspective and wisdom. We also have to think about how fast we have evolved into this type of social relationship and how quickly what we perceive as valid today will become obsolete tomorrow.

Imagine this short timeline:

  • in less than a century we developed the technology to connect ourselves on a weekly basis. This was in the form of television, radio, and telephone.
  • In less than two decades we evolved from having daily interaction, to hourly interaction with mobile phones and e-mail.
  • In less than five years, we evolved into the near instant ability to relay information to each other (Facebook, Twitter, Texting)

Through-out all of these phases, we created a massive amount of information about not only ourselves, but the people we know (friends, family, co-workers, clients, etc.)

Jump back 200 years or more.

Everything you said and did was communicated to

  • your family (those within your household)
  • your friends (those who had regular interaction)
  • strangers (those who met you once, then moved on)

In this model, only your family had access to private information. This was tightly controlled information that only the most privileged and trusted people knew. Everyone outside of the household knew only what you told them.

In today’s model:

Your friends, family, and strangers all have access to the same levels of information.

Some of this information is controlled and managed by you, while a majority of the information is accidentally exposed through our lack of technical knowledge.

  • A real world example: When it comes to getting fired due to Facebook, most people are not fired for what they said or communicated, but by someone they knew who said or communicated about them (posting the wrong photo or sharing/promoting a conversation.)

The generational gap vs the business world

Through-out our history, most cultures raised children to communicate different things within the household and outside of the household. When we compare that to today, many cultures are shifting over to “being yourself” and teaching our children to aspire, have dreams, and be the people they need to be.

Yet when we apply the concept of “be yourself” to the business world, the statement becomes “be yourself, except on business hours, and please wear this uniform and behave appropriately to protect your career.”

Realizing we are all ‘multi-faceted’

One of the most difficult problems around this question is looking at how we perceive you online. When I look at a friend online, I know a healthy amount of information about them and that balances out EVERYTHING they do online.

I may read a simple statement using profanity or find a photo that makes me raise an eyebrow, but I ultimately have enough background information to qualify and quantify that singular piece of information. This allows me to ‘average out’ a persons behavior and discount rare things.

If I don’t know you and find that one-time “you shouldn’t have done it” item, most people will base 100% of their viewpoint on you based on that item. This causes a massive problem, as you could have been looking at Ghandi online and accidentally found the one photo of him ‘kicking a puppy.’

You have two choices:

  1. Hide elements of who you are and attempt to create layers of privacy that are in your control and constantly worry about that privacy being breached.
  2. Disclose who you are and what you believe in. Live life and be human. Learn to consider your personal happiness vs the business ROI.

My piece of wisdom to my friends

Ask yourself if your professional and personal lives make you happy. The reality is the only life you have IS personal.

If you jeopardize your personal life and well being for your business life, most people would say you “sold out”

If you jeopardize your business life for your personal life, most people would say “I wish I had the balls to do that.”

Additional answers for the question can be found on Quora here.