I’ve had a blog since long before any of my friends even knew what it was. Since I worked as a news producer at WABC in New York City in my twenties.
I wrote almost daily on it, even as my journalism career took off and I was promoted to Executive Producer of FOX in Salt Lake City. The job involved managing an entire newsroom and guiding anchors, reporters, producers, editors and photographers through a successful newscast each evening.
Throughout my time on top of the newsroom food chain I maintained the blog which featured personal stories and photos of my family and each of my children as they were born. Not only did I write on the blog but I posted links to the blog on Facebook where I was friends with my news director and all of my coworkers. Granted, there was the usual learning curve that comes with starting a blog and figuring out what to write. A few posts caused some raised eyebrows on the part of my boss but, to her credit, she always realized the very simple fact that I was a great employee who also had a personal life and liked to write about it.
It’s the same for the millions of professionals who work hard but also maintain social media pages. What is social media for if not to share photos, thoughts, ideas, jokes and videos of your grandma trying to Skype? No, not photos of yourself drunk on the bathroom floor, but you holding a glass of wine at a party? Great! An album of photos featuring your newborn in various states of baby adorableness? Bring it on!
That’s what parents do. We’re brimming with pride over our child’s first steps or we’re horrified by the wall they’ve just markered up or we’re secretly laughing when they’re lying about eating the cookies when even your legally blind grandmother who can’t Skype can see the telltale chocolate mustache they’re sporting while shaking their head no. So we capture the moment and then we, say it with me, share it on Facebook. And it’s not just parents, it’s what people do. We’re sharing our lives online and encouraging each other and, yes, arguing with each other but it’s all an extended part of the human experience.
Why wouldn’t we share? Because we’re trying to be “professionals?” Because we’re trying to maintain some kind of public image via our social media pages? Because allowing co-workers to see an adorable photo from my home life would somehow steal my credibility as a newsroom badass?
Realizing that people are human, respecting that we all have lives outside of work, is as important to a constructive work environment as how we treat each other while at work. Sharing – via Facebook or Tumblr or Blogspot, whatever your social media of choice – helps us learn about each other, become better friends, realize that we’re all just doing our best to live life underneath the pressures of work. So it’s time for employers – who we all know check out job candidates online before hiring them – to realize that someone holding a beer in a Facebook photo can also be a huge asset to the company. In fact, I’d rather hire that guy than the guy who has gone out of his way to craft a sterile, purely professional, one-dimension brand on the web. That guy? He’s the one I’m worried is hiding bodies in his basement.
Over on TIME.com, the founder of Facebook’s sister, Randi Zuckerberg, agrees and writes an excellent article about why “It’s time to stop pretending we can separate out personal life from our work life.”
Zuckerberg shares how coworkers gave her grief after she posted some baby photos on her Facebook page. “Even though I promised myself that when he was born, I wouldn’t become “that mom” on Facebook, I fell hard off the wagon. First yawn? Adorbs. Facebook it. First hiccups? Obviously all my friends want to see that. Snoozing in a park? OMG, soooo cute! Who wouldn’t want to see baby photos 50 times a day?”
Zuckerberg, in all her proud new mom glory, shared photo after photo. But after an honest coworker gave it to her straight she realized the response from coworkers wasn’t at all what she expected. “Randi,” the co-worker said. “Asher is adorable, but you can’t keep posting a zillion baby photos. You have a professional reputation to uphold.”
THIS JUST IN: your professional reputation includes your personal life. It always has, actually. Just in a much more gossipy, underground, watercooler chit-chat way. I am a human being. A wife. A mother. I’m not afraid to share these bits of my life with anyone, including the people I want to hire me. Your kid’s elementary school teacher shouldn’t be afraid either. She has a life too, you know? She doesn’t sleep in the classroom. She wears a bikini when she goes on vacation, has a glass of wine when friends get together and those things are perfectly appropriate. As Zuckerberg notes, “Since we’re all going to be exposing more about ourselves online in our careers, we need to start being a bit more tolerant of what we learn about our colleagues and professional contacts. Employees are people too, and most (or at least some) of their lives are spent outside the office. As the distinction between public and private behavior changes, so should our expectations of one another.”
Several years into blogging I discovered something Randi Zuckerberg only recently realized. “It’s exhausting to put on an act—to be somebody in one situation and somebody else in another. So a long time ago, I decided to stop being afraid to share.”
It’s understandable that the older generation, the one used to compartmentalizing their professional and private lives, would feel uncomfortable with all the sharing. As Zuckerberg says, right now there are “two generations in the workforce who think in diametrically opposite ways about identity.” The older generation grew up in a time when work was work and your home life was something else entirely and never the twain shall meet. Professional personas read like a profile in Forbes and most certainly did not overlap with personal lives.
But those people have it wrong. Or maybe not wrong, perhaps it worked for their time, but it’s time to welcome a new way of thinking. Sharing your personal life online doesn’t make you unprofessional. That annoying mom on Facebook who shares all the adorbs baby photos could and should be Marisa Mayer, current President and CEO of Yahoo! Why does she need to come off like a robot for us to respect her? As Zuckerberg notes, “We understand that the business leaders of the future will be three-dimensional personalities whose lives, interests, hobbies and passions outside of work are documented and on display.”
Those who aren’t afraid to share, the people who are able to integrate their personal and professional lives, the ones who can be authentic online and off, are the employees that employers should be looking for. Not the person who has erased any trace of themselves from the Internet save for a sterile resume touting their positive attributes (check the basement for dead bodies!)
The answer to the social media conundrum isn’t to share less, it’s to share more. Change what it means to be professional in the Internet age. “The time when your personal identity was a secret to your colleagues is over and done. And that is a good thing,” says Randi Zuckerberg.
Admit it. Your day was brightened by that photo up there. If it wasn’t, you are dead inside and should unfriend me immediately. Or you can friend me right now and upload all of your Halloween photos! If you also happen to be a badass at your job, I’ll totally respect you even more, you well-rounded individual, you.
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