Social media (remember when it was called social networking?) gives everyone the opportunity to connect, share, and participate with other people. Social media has gathered so much attention that it has transformed the way that we communicate, discover news, and in some cases, perform our jobs.
Entire professions and departments of companies are devoted to researching methods and improving use of social media. It has a pervasive reach into the corporate footprint, involving every department from marketing and PR to IT and HR. There is a good chance that your company has paid someone to tell them how to “do” social media, revamped corporate policies because of it, or considered how to build it into a strategic advantage.
The ways that you use social media are probably very much aligned with how your company uses it – whether they encourage or discourage use. If you use social media professionally, you may not be using it fully because it is tied up in company regulations. It’s a confusing issue, as it blurs the line between professional and personal identity. If you do spend time on social networks and with social media, however, it’s important to derive as much value from it as possible.
The entire reason many people find using social media so intimidating is that it intertwines different aspects of your identity. Companies often have policies about portrayal of the company and can also judge you on your off-work behavior as well. Most people simply relegate their accounts to entirely personal or professional uses. For example, they tweet open jobs with their company or when the company wins a big project. They might reserve Facebook for posting pictures about their barbecue. This kind of bifurcation is natural and necessary – you don’t want just anybody seeing pictures of your kids.
However, if you don’t have one natural, unified social media account that presents your public personality, you’re missing out on the most productive aspect of social media – unifying your identity and forming real relationships with clients, prospects, friends, and people in your industry. At its best, social media gives you a tool for personal development – allowing you to present exactly what you would like to be presented about yourself, but more importantly, giving you a reason to make that decision.
Using social media most effectively is not about what you want to say to your friends, or what your company wants you to say – an integrated account is everything that you want a stranger to know about you. But you first have to understand what, exactly, that is. Coming to that understanding is a process of self-discovery. By asking what you want people to know about you, you are really asking yourself what is most important to you and your character.
Who are you really? What matters to you? Is it
- Your company?
- Professional interests?
- Industry connections?
… and so on. You have to ask yourself, “What do I believe in or care about so strongly that I would be a public advocate for?” By integrating your personal and professional identities, you are forming the way in which you want to be viewed by a stranger.
It’s a scary proposition. However, having the ability to craft the exact identity that you want is an opportunity not given to those that have came before us. If you have shied away from integrating certain aspects of your life to form a cohesive public personality, now is the time to ask yourself why. First figure out how you want to be seen and then make it happen – the worst that can happen is that you go through an interesting exercise of self discovery and get to know yourself a little bit better.