Sunday, May 1, 2011

5 Social Media Guidelines to Protect Your Personal Brand

What are you "allowed" to do using social media*?

It's a question that confronts anyone using the Internet - whether on a smartphone or a desktop - all the time.

To state the obvious, some typical situations:

* Scanning your updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter

* Reading an online discussion group or message board you follow or have joined

* Reading the newspaper online, and there is space for comments

* A friend has sent you something marked "inspiring" or "read this"; a newspaper or newsletter you subscribe to has emailed you an alert; a brand you like has emailed you information about a promotion

Of course it is a free country and we have free speech.

But our speech is also limited by certain constraints. For example we can't slander other people. We can't infringe on their intellectual property. Can't plagiarize. Can't reveal information that we're not allowed to reveal. Can't violate any agreements we've made with our employers regarding the bounds of appropriate behavior as long as we work for them. And so on.

So it's a balancing act we all must play, all the time. Between what we want to say, are allowed to say, and what we simply cannot.

For some people the lines are clear. For others the rules can be confusing.

For example, there are things you might forward from a personal email that would not be appropriate to forward from a work account.

It might be tempting, given all this complexity, to avoid thinking about this stuff at all and just do whatever "seems right." However, this can be extremely harmful to you if you make a mistake - putting your financial security at risk by jeopardizing your job and your brand (personal security is another important issue, and worth seeking guidance on elsewhere.)

Here's what I do to help myself navigate this issue. Hope it is helpful to you:

1. I read my organization's policy regarding general rules of behavior as well as information technology rules of behavior. I understand pretty well what I'm supposed to avoid - basically anything that would compromise confidential information; operations; the security of the information technology infrastructure; the confidence of the public in the organization; or that would make it appear that I am endorsing any individual, organization or entity on behalf of the organization. I keep my organization's name out of my posts unless there is a reason to share it, and I clearly state that my opinions are not the opinions of my organization. From a branding perspective, we are two separate entities, but we are also somewhat linked and my behavior on social media reflects that.

2. I represent myself on social media, my opinions only and my experiences, and leave my family and friends out of it. It's a tool for building a professional presence - not for sharing a step-by-step guide to how I decorated my home, prepared for Thanksgiving, etc. The two stay separate.

3. At the same time, I try to be as real as possible - human. I think it's better for your reputation to simply be yourself - normally, appropriately, professionally, and at times humorously too. It's also OK to speak from the heart and admit mistakes, foibles, etc.

4. I try to share what I've learned - helping other people. Not be self-indulgent, self-promotional, etc. To be part of the community of learners.

5. I am careful about what I write. I think about it a lot. I imagine that whatever I put out there is going to be "on the back of a postcard," as someone once said about social media. No matter how many firewalls you think there are, once you put keyboard or touchpad to screen, it is out there.

Last point - whether I'm on the Internet or not - I think to myself that everything I say and do, in real life or online, is subject to being recorded in some way. Even if it's not true or realistic. It helps me to keep in mind, very seriously, that I shouldn't be careless about my image - ever.

So - a little bit of a heavy post, but meant to help others not make mistakes that can easily be made.

That said - have a good rest of the weekend everyone, and as always, good luck!

*This blog is my opinion only, based on my own experiences and observation, and not a substitute for legal advice or the policies of your organization.