At last week’s Emerging Leaders Network lunch, we talked a lot about how to handle current or prospective employers and colleagues looking you up on social networking sites. Several suggestions bounced around the room: Direct professional contacts to your LinkedIn profile instead of Facebook, restrict certain Facebook updates to a more select group of people, maintain two different Facebook accounts (I’m not a big fan of that last one). And then we started talking more extreme measures: Ramping up privacy settings to 11 to be unfindable, or even altering your name so it doesn’t look like you at all.
It’s clear that there’s a lot of fear out there. And I get it, I do. We’ve all heard those stories about people getting fired for what they put on Facebook. It’s almost a part of the zeitgeist now. But let’s stop for a minute and think about what we lose when we let our actions be dictated by fear.
People as a whole tend to be very loss averse. We’ll do a lot to avoid losing anything we already have, even if it means passing up on potential big gains. In this case, that means keeping a tight lid on our online activities, so we can’t possibly get in trouble for anything we say. However, shouldn’t we also consider the damage done when a potential employer does a Google search on a job candidate, finds nothing but a boring, flavorless LinkedIn profile, and moves on to someone who stands out more?
This goes back to another very important topic discussed at the lunch: The need to establish authentic relationships with the people you work with. No one wants a robot for a coworker. Especially in the nonprofit sector, we’re looking for people who share our passion for our organization’s mission, are excited by the possibilities in front of us, and show that in a hundred different ways every day.
Guess what? It’s not so different on the Internet. If you let that honest-to-goodness genuine side of yourself shine through, it will be noticed, and it will open doors for you. So embrace it! Tweet about your causes and your talents, and create that personal website. Employers searching for you on Facebook? Great, use it! By all means restrict those posts about the ups and downs of your family to friends-only, but consider switching the privacy setting on that post about good news at work to “Everyone”, so it’s the first thing a new contact will see about you. (And if you don’t post about your good news, now’s a great time to start, the people in your life like to hear about those things.)
Believe me when I say that I’m preaching the gospel of the converted here. When I first started using Twitter, I kept it almost exclusively to friends and couldn’t fathom why someone I didn’t know would want to follow me. As time went by, that mental block began to fade away, and I started reaching out more to those people out there who share my aspirations. And wow, what a difference. Strangers became colleagues, and colleagues became friends. I can tell you with 100% confidence that that new attitude has made me better networked, smarter, and dare I say happier too.
In the immortal words of FDR, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Don’t be afraid to be yourself online, be excited for the chance to show what you’re like at your best. That’s the real you, and it’s the person I’d most like to connect with.