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Nov 3, 200912:00 AMThe Web Chef's Cafe

with Paul Gibler

Boundaryless Life - Relational Firewalls Come Tumbling Down at Work and at Play

Boundaryless Life - Relational Firewalls Come Tumbling Down at Work and at Play

The Web Chef's Café will focus on giving you insights, tips and links to free and fee resources on some of the latest developments in online marketing. Our Web Chef encourages you to send topic ideas and to comment on the postings as the bi-weekly series continues to evolve. Read Full Bio

The continued growth of social media, adoption of smartphones, expanding wireless access and growth of the free agent worker are leading many of us to an "always on" reality where the boundaries between work and play are becoming increasingly difficult to define and to maintain. This lack of boundaries has created communication challenges for friends, colleagues, clients, workers and managers alike; as each of us struggles with who to friend or not; who to follow or not; what to say or not; what to share or not; and how to present ourselves or not; in our various public and private personas.

The challenges of deciding whether to allow or to ask to friend your coworkers, subordinates and/or boss are creating some interesting dynamics in the era of social communications and expanded virtual communities. For some of us, the decision is being made by the specific social media channel in which we communicate. For example, I chose to define my Facebook account primarily as a personal social network, where my primary network is friends and not my work-related relationships. The messages, videos, photos and other content that I share or comment on are far different from those I would share through my more public persona. The "private" context of the communications arena is such that I am more willing to reveal my opinions or to act more "childish" than I would otherwise do so.

On the other hand, I've elected to make my LinkedIn presence part of a public social network, where business acquaintances and those I know from a range of walks of life can connect with me. At LinkedIn, I've joined or asked to join affinity groups based on my interests and based on my professional profile. For example, I'm a both my undergraduate and graduate alumni association groups based on my alumnus status. My group membership would not have been approved otherwise. I'm also a member of various other groups reflecting my professional interests and credentials.

However, over time I've seen some erosion of this "relational firewall" as the boundaries of who is a friend and who is a client or co-worker become increasingly hazy and ill-defined. It is this erosion that could cause long lasting problems or generate unexpected opportunities as our worlds and networks collide or intersect in unexpected ways.

For my two primary Twitter accounts, @thewebchef or @thepptchef, I've elected to follow a large number of people and tend to follow those who follow me unless I find that they tweet on topics outside of my business interests. I'm open to being followed by anyone.

As Nancy Rothbard, a Professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania said in a recent Knowledge@Wharton article "new communications technology is eroding the boundaries between home and office, which creates a 'double-edged sword' for companies. On the one hand, it enables flexibility. In some ways, it makes you more effective. But it can also lead to a lot of burnout. In the long term, it may lead to conflict about how you feel towards your other life roles and your ability to be fully present in any one domain."

The challenge is that we often define ourselves in multiple ways depending upon the group with whom we are interacting. The completely integrated self is rare, given the social mores of our various worlds where differing roles and expectations help establish who we are in relation to others. However this useful compartmentalization and our personal privacy are being challenged as we reveal more and more about ourselves in the guise of our various personas.

The etiquette challenges we face in this new world vary greatly by generation.

Young people who grew up with these social communications tools tend to use them in all facets of their lives and to a degree of self and business revelations that goes beyond what is expected or possibly sanctioned by an older generation accustomed to more circumspect communications. The era of "too much information" is upon us as this generational baton is handed off and the social mores for the appropriate points of revelation have yet to be fully defined and accepted. Younger people need to be aware that today's "brand called you" could in ten or twenty years be totally inappropriate as their personal or professional calling card.

For business purposes, our guidelines should be to eliminate the sharing of inappropriate or proprietary business information while still embracing the benefits that a more socially savvy and connected workforce provides. At the personal level our guidelines should be to think before we post or speak, and to be aware of the expanded audience who could see our communiqué. We should also be clear our policies for friending and following when it comes to those who today are clients, bosses, coworkers, subordinates, friends and affiliates, but who tomorrow could easily be in a different role in our lives.

How will your personal versus professional identities vary or be congruent in this new age of communications? If you are a sole proprietor, these will often be the same, however if you are an employee of a large company, your professional identity may in fact be proscribed, by your organization according to Hugh Carpenter author of the blog I'm Not Actually a Geek, in a recent blog posting "Social Media Identity: Personal vs. Professional."

Regardless of what you do with your online persona(s), think it through strategically and execute it to best meet your personal and professional objectives, both now and in the future.

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