Do you really want people to know “that” about you?

TakeAway: Users of social networking sites must be more cognizant of the viral nature of their posts, especially in any context where work and private life are intertwined. “They have to realize there are potential negative consequences that can flow from coworkers knowing more about you than is prudent.”

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Excerpted from: Knowledge@Wharton , Available All the Time: Etiquette for the Social Networking Age, September 30, 2009 

Facebook was a highly personal space before it was infiltrated by business and professional users. Initially, many businesspeople attempted to use LinkedIn for business contacts, reserving Facebook for more personal interactions. Gradually, however, professional colleagues, clients and supervisors have now become “friends.”

The explosion in the popularity of Facebook has made the site a key battleground in the struggle to establish consensus on correct social networking behavior.

Managing the scope of social networks is a challenge. Cautious friending is one way to keep a Facebook page from becoming a business liability.  “It’s not that impressive to have 500 friends on Facebook or LinkedIn whom you don’t know, and you don’t know what they might say.”  

Was it wise to accept a colleague or higher-up as a “friend” to begin with?  What if your boss friends you on Facebook? How do you not accept that friend?

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For most people who use Facebook and other social networking sites “there is an understanding of the multiple roles we play. There is the self we are for our friends, a self for our family [and] a professional self. What’s interesting is the degree to which we are comfortable playing all of those ‘selves’ at one time.” And that is something that people are not used to doing. Before the advent of such networks, it was unusual for someone to display a persona that would seem familiar to friends, coworkers and family — all at the same time.

“I’ve heard people say that Facebook is for personal friends and LinkedIn is for professional contacts … but many of my Facebook friends are colleagues — people who work just down the hall  … it gives them access to my personal self that’s not normally available to them.”

In mixing up personal and professional roles, people can get themselves into embarrassing situations. “I think some people are good, and some people are not so good, at finding a balance in these roles” and keeping information that would be perceived as too personal out of a professional context.

Some aspects of social networking are generational. Older people may have a Facebook page, but it is not essential to them. Younger people rely heavily on Facebook, Twitter and other social media to communicate. Young people want to be very accessible. 

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There is a general “pecking order” in the business community when it comes to responding to different forms of communication. E-mail should be answered within 24 hours and a telephone call returned even sooner.

Social networking sites take the lowest priority.

The order makes sense because a phone call or e-mail seeks specific information from the one individual being contacted. Social networks come last because, they are a wide-open forum where communications is less targeted at one individual.

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The root of many of the awkward situations that arise around the use of Facebook and other social networking sites is giving out too much information. 

In face-to-face communications, people are much more careful about the volume and nature of the information they disclose.

On the Internet, however, “there is a lot of lack of awareness — or obliviousness — about who is receiving this information.”

Someone using Twitter, for example, may think that only 20 people will read their message; meanwhile, millions of unknown people may stumble upon the information.

Users of social networking sites must be more cognizant of the viral nature of their posts, especially in any context where work and private life are intertwined. “They have to realize there are potential negative consequences that can flow from coworkers knowing more about you than is prudent.”

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Full article:
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2349

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