Part Ten: Who’s Your Buddy? Social Networking and Personal Branding

Kyle Bernstein

Social networking sites like FaceBook and MySpace are a great way to catch up with long lost pals and show the world handswhat you’re up to.  They’re a fun distraction when you need to break away from the grind, and a bit of entertainment when you’re on hold with a client, or stuck in bed with the flu.

But should you mix business with pleasure?  Though this might sound like such a simple question, it’s actually quite involved.  It’s very easy to allow “Twittering” to consume an entire work day — basic rules of conduct apply.  When you are working, you shouldn’t be downloading photos or watching a video.  Many companies have policies against using their computers for personal use even after hours and may be able to track your web surfing.   The broad answer would be that social networking should be done at home, in off hours.  However, everyone and their mother are on FaceBook, including your coworkers, several clients, and the owner of a company you’ve been trying to get an appointment with for six months.

Although these sites are intended for socializing, a savvy business gal knows that opportunities are where you can find or make them. These sites can be an unobtrusive way to remind a business prospect that you haven’t forgotten their promise to revisit your proposal in the spring.  Many of these sites have strict rules against solicitation, so be sure you know what they are and follow them — lest you get the boot.

It is also proper web etiquette to add only people you actually know to your network.  Even though that Celebrity Chef has 1,568 friends, if it is their personal site you should respect their privacy. If they do accept your friend request, don’t use it as an in to try to sell them something or get yourself a job (unless it’s something you’ve discussed with them previously, or if they bring it up).  If they are that important, they’re probably not even the one maintaining the page anyway.  Conversely, adding contacts you don’t know personally can subject your real friends to unwanted solicitation and open you up to undesirable comments and posts.

That brings us to another issue.  Is your profile page even suitable for clients to view?

Say you accidentally invite all of you email contacts to join your network.  Will you have to scramble to remove those Spring Break photos or delete your entire page?  Do you want your #1 Account Manager or your employees to see compromising photos of you, or know your sexual orientation?  Anything you post on the Internet is out there for all to see for an indefinite period of time; you never know what could come back to haunt you.  These are things you need to consider carefully as this could impact your “personal brand”.

Yes, ladies (and gentlemen), we’ve come to a time when your image is no longer just how you dress or conduct yourself, but an issue of marketing yourself as a product. Judging by the effectiveness of viewing Emmitt Smith go from a faceless helmet to a suave gent on “Dancing with the Stars,” there is definitely something to this way of thinking.  His “people” clearly understood the impact of image and used it as a tool to aid him in changing careers from professional athlete to business owner.  Most of us are unable to hire a life coach and a stylist and go on national television to create our professional image.

However, we do have sites for professionals and industries, such as FOHBOH  for the restaurant world (stands for Front of the House/Back of the House), which allows self-representation in a positive fashion.  You may choose to belong to several sites and opt to have one for work contacts like LinkedIn and reserve MySpace for friends and family only.  Keep in mind that you never know when a social acquaintance may recommend you for a job at their firm, or a client may become a friend. Always remember that who you were in the past, and what you do in your free time, are what make you who you are and come into play on a daily basis.   Unless you have a secret porn career you’d like to keep hidden, why not be yourself and share it with the world? Tastefully and in moderation, of course. If all this sharing makes you step back occasionally and reassess some inappropriate behaviors, there’s no harm in that. Then you can be yourself at home, at work, and online.  Looks like it’s not all that complicated after all.

© Image iStockphoto/Szymon Apanowicz