Sometimes the most innocent of things lead to the most interesting of discussions. A couple of days ago, I innocently asked whether such-and-such a person worked at such-and-such a company. Turns out, this was not the right thing to do, because the username I saw was a personal Twitter account, not a business Twitter account.
This is actually one of those things that is endemic in social media, but few of us really talk about. How do you draw the appropriate line between what is personal and what is business? Does it make sense to create a business persona for one’s “work social media” while maintaining separation between church and state?
In the case of younger people who are entering the workforce, this can be a big issue. A twentysomething employee of mine was a very big FaceBooker, but resolutely refused to use it for work — instead preferring to setup a whole separate account and identity for her “Work FaceBook” (now that’s a phrase you literally would never have seen five years ago). I can’t say I blame her; some of her Facebook friends (rightly) were sharing pictures of her that she wouldn’t want her boss, never mind her business contacts, seeing.
This happens, though, across the social media sphere. The RE.net’s “Rules of Fight Club” and the “No Cameras After 9PM” rules exist because of the damage otherwise innocent photos and videos can cause thanks to social media. A picture is just a picture when in someone’s camera and in a photo album; placed on the Internet, it becomes part of your public permanent record.
At the same time, becoming a Business Personality robs social media of its very meaning: human beings connecting authentically to other human beings. Becoming some sort of a PR flack for a company isn’t amenable to getting to know someone, y’know? Jeff Turner (@respres) is fond of talking about the importance of Play in social media — and he’s right on that count.
So in hopes of finding some answers, I asked one of the experts for his opinion: Todd Carpenter, Social Media Manager of NAR. Our little Q&A is below the fold.
Todd Carpenter Interview
The following is a transcript of a chat interview I had with Todd Carpenter of National Association of REALTORS, where he works as the first-ever Social Media Manager. His info can be found here.
NotoriousROB: So Todd, the balance between the personal and the business in social media is a difficult one to strike. What are your preliminary thoughts on the issue?
Todd Carpenter: “Having a seperate business and personal profile is like showing up to a cocktail party twice. Once in your suit, then in a Hawaiian shirt” This a a quote by a friend of mine, Kit Mueller.
Todd: You are who you are. Pealple aren’t going to relate to a pure business profile. You need to be prepared for business and personal profiles to clash, just as they do in real life.
Rob: So as the SM Director of NAR, I know one of your core missions is to train NAR staff on properly using Social Media. What guidance do you provide about the line between personal and business? What’s too personal, for example?
Todd: We are building a set of best practice guidelines to help the staff and leadership at NAR to participate in social media. It’s tricky. The staff needs to feel free to express their personal opinions. But they also need to understand that their profile is higher by participating in social media. So, we mainly just want to show the staff how to be transparent as to when they are speaking for NAR and when they are speaking their own minds
Rob: I imagine you’re meeting some resistance in some quarters… perhaps especially from the younger Gen-Y staff, who worry about what photos their college buddies are going to flag of them on FaceBook. (Though we worry about that too.) What are the big problems you’ve seen, either at NAR or elsewhere, and how do you resolve them?
Todd: The biggest problem is that pictures are worth a thousand words, but about 900 of them are misunderstood or mis-perceived. For instance, I go to networking functions all the time where cocktails are served. Pictures get taken. Now there are dozens of pictures of me with a drink in my hand. Does it mean I spend every night at the bar? Well yes. [ED: I can vouch for that.] No not really. [ED: I can vouch for that too, because I was there, and Todd wasn’t.] But it’s still easy to misperceive.
Another example would be pictures taken of one of the staff members on vacation. Sounds weird right?
Rob: What’s wrong with that?
Todd: Staff on vacation? Seems harmless until an agent who’s struggling to make ends meet and feed his/her kids sees a NAR staff member relaxing in the Bahamas. People can misinterpret pictures. So we are still trying to figure that out.
Rob: So do you think most people err by being too personal, or too business? I mean, posting pics of one’s bedroom gymnastics is probably “too personal”. But on which side of the line do most people err?
Todd: I think real estate agents largely tend to be too business-y because they are at heart, salespeople. Always marketing. I know I have to purposely turn Mr. Sales Guy off when I participate on social media. The staff at NAR, however, is made up of non-salespeople. Authors, Graphic Designers, IT Geeks… I don’t know of a single staff member who is “too” personal but that would be more likely. However, at least one of the people who competed with me for my job was disqualified based on that person’s Facebook page.
But I think you have to look at how someone conducts themselves online as a measure of their character. If they are over the top unprofessional, that would likely relate to what they are like face to face.
Rob: So @ktgeek (Keith Garner) recently tweeted that he was “outed” before he was ready. What’s that about? How will you be helping NAR staff understand these personal/biz issues? What would your recommendation be to a realtor or a brokerage office looking at all this SM stuff?
Todd: There are members of the NAR staff who I know of that do not want their Twitter presences known to REALTORS. They make no reference to NAR in their profile or tweets. So that’s one way. Others don’t make it a point to announce their employment, but occasionally interact with other NAR employees and occasional tweet about NAR related stuff. I think that’s where Keith was when he was “outed” as NAR staff. That’s the chance those staff members must be willing to accept. Then there are people like me who leverage their personal social media presense. I not only accept it, I embrace it
Rob: That makes a lot of sense; just because someone works for NAR doesn’t mean they should lose his privacy.
It would be impossible to expect one person, even someone whose job is to think about social media for a large national organization, to have all the answers. Todd gave some great guidance, I thought, but questions remain.
Is it possible to remain authentic, remain human, without going into personal business?
Is personal business even appropriate for social media when it’s used for work and work-related matters?
For that matter, can someone really embracing social media really split the personal from the business?
If how you conduct yourself online is a measure of your character, then should you really hide it with ‘spin’ and ‘professionalism’? Or do you just let it all hang out and work on your actual character instead? (Yeah, but you’d still lose that job….)
Is it a worse crime in the social media sphere to be too personal or too business?
Can people see through the business personality as they do through clever ad copy and massaged press releases?
Questions upon questions, and few answers. What say you?
Or, perhaps as the Bard says,
“All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts”
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII).