Chatting with my colleague Steve Matthews today, the conversation turned to Facebook and my status updates thereat. Steve remarked that he learned something new about my interests and personality every time I posted one of those updates. (Today, I expect he learned that I’m a fan of Goscinny & Uderzo’s Gaulish warriors.) I took that as confirmation that the way I use Facebook is delivering the results I hoped it would, and it got me thinking that it might be worth a short post reflecting on how we (or at any rate, how I) use social media to tell the world about ourselves.
I use four social media vehicles: blogs (my main blog Law21, my regular contributions here at Law Firm Web Strategy, and a regular column at Slaw), Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Each of the four presents a different opportunity to interact with the world at large, and I try to maximize the specific strengths of each one.
Blogs: I try to adjust the content of what I write in each of the three blogs: social media and communications topics here at Stem, Canadian-focused legal issues at Slaw, and the whole wide gamut of my law-related interests at Law21. But at each stop, my voice is the same: the Professional Me. I rarely insert myself into the narrative as I’m doing here, and it’s extremely rare that I get seriously personal — this is about as close as I’ve come, actually. Partly this is because I’m actually a pretty private person, and partly it’s because I don’t have nearly a big enough ego to believe you should care what I’m about. But mostly it’s because I consider these blogs professional publications that come with readers’ expectations of appropriate tone and content. It’s the ex-journalist in me, I suppose.
Twitter: It’s been difficult for me to stay true to my aim for Twitter, which is for it to be entirely an extension of my professional self, a broadcast of my blog entries and news of interest to a changing legal profession. It’s hard because I’m often tempted to mix it up with personal observations and my particular brand of humour (that not everyone gets), everyday stuff I’d really enjoy saying or forwarding to the 1,800-odd people following me, but don’t. Certainly, the evolving wisdom of Twitter is to let that mixing happen, to dilute (or freshen, depending on your perspective) the professional with the personal. A few people manage separate Twitter accounts, but most can’t, and I expect I’d be one of them. People follow me for my professional observations, not because of whether I think John Farrell will be a good manager. So Twitter also contains the Professional Me, in a way that tries to complement what the blogs achieve.
Facebook: As a result, Facebook is where the Personal Me comes out, in status updates and links to videos, news stories and so forth. Over the last week, that’s included observations on Armistice Day imagery, a link to a brilliant high-school football trick play, 50th birthday wishes to my brother, a Simpsons reference (natch), and a link to a John Lennon/Van Halen mashup. But I’m also cautious, and not just because I intentionally leave my privacy filters low and need to be careful what I say. I’ve learned, as we all do by a certain age (and as my young relatives on Facebook will soon learn) that you don’t give all of yourself away all the time to everyone, because who you really are is something valuable that merits sharing with a select few people. Equally, I rarely link to my professional work on Facebook; if you read my page, you probably wouldn’t know what I do for a living.
LinkedIn: This really is the odd one out in the social media quadrangle, because despite the best efforts of its administrators, LinkedIn really isn’t a social fourm. It’s a place where you keep your online CV and hang out your professional credentials, because it’s one of the first places people will look to find out (a) if you’re legitimate and (b) if you and they know anyone in common. What I’ve been doing lately on LinkedIn is culling contacts and declining new connections with people whom I don’t know and who don’t introduce themselves. I want to get to the point where I can say that I’ve had some meaningful personal contact with everyone on my Connections page — not for control issues, but because thanks to LinkedIn, the company you choose to keep has become incredibly important in people’s judgment of you.
I don’t offer these anecdotes as recommendations of how you or anyone else should use social media; I only want to observe that the partial pictures we sketch of ourselves through social media form a mosaic of how the world sees us, and we are entirely responsible for the accuracy and completeness of that mosaic. Speaking for myself, I want my mosaic to be 100% accurate, but far less than 100% complete; I don’t want to lead a life online as well as offline. I don’t expect privacy from social media — as someone wisely pointed out, you get all the privacy on Facebook that you pay for — so it’s up to me to decide what my social media face is and why. For now, that face is almost entirely professional, and that’s exactly how I like it.
But that’s just me. How do you approach it?