GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Social Distortion: Blurring the Professional and the Personal on Twitter

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/05/14 at 09:18

One of the most memorable applications I have ever reviewed was submitted from  a student from China who was the owner of a small chain of shops that sold scarves and accessories.  Included with her application was a glossy brochure that she had had professionally printed in full color.  It showed photos of her in her shops, photos from her vacations, and photos of her with her friends and family.  It also included her biography, a history of her company, and a page on her likes and pet peeves.  Although it was unconventional, this woman was very confident about selling herself to us in a way that she had well thought out.

Yesterday, Mary and I met for coffee and of course, University of Venus came up.   Mary has been encouraging me to build my personal brand through social media: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  I have been resisting Mary’s advice for months.

I mainly use Facebook to entertain.  My Facebook friends are actually my friends and family.  I am a regular Facebook user; it is my main form of communication with people that I don’t see every day.  Until the launch of this blog, I had never used it for anything professional.  Each day the line dividing personal and professional blurs a little more.

I am a lurker on Twitter.  I follow a few people, and have 5 close friends that follow me, but I rarely tweet and my tweets are private.   I have been reluctant to start publicly tweeting, until I know what I want to use it for. Twitter seems to need a strategy, a marketing plan of sorts.  In the meanwhile, I read other people’s tweets, and try to learn from their strategies.

I am terrified of LinkedIn.  I put up my resume, connected with a few people, and have been afraid to log in ever since.  I suppose I am an avoider. It is clear that LinkedIn is Professional. A friend who is also new to social media once said the following: “I’ve been told that LinkedIn is the office, Facebook is the neighborhood cookout, and MySpace is the bar.” When your home office and the local coffee shop become extensions of your workplace, where do you draw the line? Are you a different person in different contexts?

Although my relationship with these three networks varies, I do think that building my brand is important.

I am in a strange place in my career.  I am no longer new to the world of work, and I am a member of the senior leadership team.  However, I don’t think I have paused to think about what I stand for or what I want to be known for.   I need to focus on thinking  of myself as an asset that is compelling, authentic, and consistent.  I need to create my own definition of success and ensure that it motivates me.  I am finding this task to be somewhat intimidating. I always thought that hard work would speak for itself. However, I now realize that self-promotion is not only a good idea but a 21st century necessity.

What do you think? Is personal branding vital for success at work? Is the concept relevant only to Western audiences, or is it also important in other areas of the world? Are there any drawbacks to marketing yourself in this way? If so, what should you do about it?

Meg Palladino

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  1. Hi Meg

    You’re not alone. There are always those ducks to water that take to these things more quickly than others. Always those (are they extroverts, or introverts who have found an anonymous way to live the dream?) who see no wrong in being out there. And there are a lot of people out there who, let’s be honest, don’t know why they’re out there, what they’re really doing, have zero game plan or end goal (but a million connections), who maybe are hoping to stumble across a path by just racing around the maze. And there are others who just walk quietly around the maze and wait on the other side. I blog on HubCap Digital amongst other places (Psychfutures, Human Potential Accounting). I have a Squidoo lens I tweet (very occasionally) on digital scholarship I’m on LinkedIn somewhere, and a dozen Ning’s (that’s if they haven’t been closed now). I do these things only when I have something to say (or I think others might want to hear). I don’t talk about what I just ate. Or how cute my dog looks today (ok, I just did, but you know what I mean). I have a day job first. My brand – if I have one (yes, I do have a kind of alter ego – Lyaeus – arcane Greek for ‘he who frees’) – is part of my job, just as much as I work for X. I guess I’m saying it doesn’t matter where you are. One place or a dozen. If you have a million followers or ten. If all of those ten are interested and engaged, better than a million who don’t know why they’re following you at all.

    • Stuart has it right. I quit twitter because there were some weird people following me. Good questions, Meg!

  2. Stuart – Thanks for the support! I guess I just need to put some good stuff out there.

    Phil – Thanks for reading! I am sorry that twitter didn’t work out for you.

  3. Hi Meg – you’re on the right track, great post! I prefer not to think of using social media as a personal branding toolkit (probably because I’m a bit anti-brand!) but more as taking advantage of tools that help me achieve a goal. I think it all depends on what you want to do. Do you want to promote your blog? Do you want to get information? Do you want to promote yourself as an expert in your field? And on and on. What do you want to do? That will determine what communication tools work for you.

    The problem with self promotion is that it can quickly turn into an inauthentic endeavor. There are plenty of people on Twitter that just look like and sound like used car sales. Same with some of them on LinkedIn. You can ignore most of them, but making yourself sound authentic is a challenge. It also depends on the tool you use.

    For professional reasons, I think Twitter and LinkedIn suffice. In fact, I really think only LinkedIn matters, though I’m an avid fan of Twitter. Going to a conference and then looking for the people you connected with at the conference on LinkedIn is a great way for staying in touch. I also use LinkedIn to read about updates in my industry from the many forums. LinkedIn is an easy way to look good on (virtual) paper and gives your resume/experience/professional background additional eyes. You don’t have to do much with it if you don’t want.

    Twitter, on the other hand, is a process. Don’t use it with out a plan in mind. It’s a fine line and it requires you to pay attention to what others are saying and participate. I used it because I wanted to demonstrate I was knowledgeable in my field, without having to write a blog (after many failed attempts at blogging, I realized just how hard it is to maintain my own blog! Micro-blogging could be described as the lazy approach to blogging). It was a resource for me to not only demonstrate I knew about issues and trends in my industry (international education) but also learn from all the other orgs out there. I’ve learned about more international education organizations and professionals on Twitter than through any other sources (searches, rss feeds, news, conferences).

    Facebook is so big that it’s unreal and I think pointless for professional reasons, when you already have LinkedIn (though I’m sure others will totally disagree). I don’t use it for professional networks and I don’t recommend that people do. Keep the private and professional networks separate, especially in light of the new privacy failures Facebook has been so slow to fix. Myspace isn’t used as much for professional reasons, though its good if you want to reach out to a more diverse student populations (see Danah Boyd’s work on socio-economic differences between Myspace and Facebook).

    I got my current position by being recruited on Twitter, through a combination of my Twitter and LinkedIn use. So authentic self promotional does work sometimes!

    One last bit – privacy matters. Only put out as much information as you see fit. Don’t feel pressure to accept friend requests (I turn them down frequently!) and certainly don’t feel pressured to open your whole life up to everyone on Facebook. The amount of information I can glean about colleagues out there is nuts.

    I’d be so curious to see how this all plays out in different cultures though. Hopefully you get some feedback on that.

    Good luck!

  4. Hi Nicolle,

    Thanks for your great words of wisdom! You encourage me. I just spend an hour adding connections on LinkedIn. Maybe I will start in on Twitter tomorrow.🙂

  5. Facebook is for staying connected with people you know (or used to know) and Twitter is for connecting with people you’d like to know. Though I have an account I don’t use Facebook; I’ve always found it to be a horrendous time-sink. Twitter, on the other hand, can be like a personalized news-feed, if you choose wisely the people you follow. As for being followed by weirdos on Twitter…what does it matter? They are easily ignored or they can even be blocked.

    I think one’s brand and how to “promote” it is an open book these days. Twitter, LinkedIn, a personal blog, Facebook, are today…what will be used tomorrow? Who knows? Will you like those new social media networks, who knows? The point is that you can test these things out, be a lurker, and see what you like. It’s nice to have an array of options. Observe, like you say, others and see how they do it. I think it’s important to build a brand too. And I do not think that one’s hard-working reputation speaks for itself any longer, if it ever did, especially for women. With these social media, you create your own message.

  6. Hi Meg! You have a good perspective. I suppose I should just tweet away and see what it is that I have to say. Thanks!

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