Is Social Media Privacy an Oxymoron?

Whether you’re a CEO or student, at some point you’ve pondered the decision of whether to have multiple social media accounts (business vs. pleasure). Some have had success doing this, but these examples are dwindling fast.

Facebook’s new privacy policy allows more individual controls, but it also allows for more openness at the same time. Facebook, like other social media tools, realizes that openness is king to be more useful to its users and (in the end) effectively monetize their platform. Ironically, as individual users of these tools, we often want the best of both worlds when it comes to the hotly debated topic of privacy.

Members of Generation X and older have most likely spent most of their lives in “separate” worlds. You took on a different role or character depending on where you were or who you were with.

Most of us had at least two personas — normally a work persona and a non-work persona. Many of us had several personas: social, work, family, coach, charity, and so on.

For instance, your behavior at an event like Woodstock or Burning Man was much different than at the office the following Monday. “Al the Accountant” may only be known by his coworkers as “Meticulous Accountant Al,” while his bowling pals would know him only as “Al-Valanche” because you better get out of the way when he’s on a weekend bender.

Social Media has Changed the way we Live Offline

Even if you believe that life with social media is worse, you can’t argue that social media has forever changed the way we live. With this change, people are best off being comfortable in their own skin and not pretending to be anything that they aren’t.

Author Marcus Buckingham’s (“Now Discover Your Strengths”) philosophy of playing to your strengths is further played out in a social media world. Transparency demands it. With so much information at our disposal, it’s extremely difficult for a well-rounded person to stand out in this new world.

Without a doubt, it’s somewhat daunting to always be on your best behavior. It’s mentally taxing to have fewer avenues to blow off steam or to always maintain a perfect persona. Perhaps “Al the Accountant” is more effective at work and dogmatic on the details because outside of work he can let it all go and doesn’t have to burden himself with the details.

While there are downsides to such 24/7 personal openness, overall it’s easy to take the side of arguing that appropriate transparency is in sum a good thing for individuals and society. Without question, it’s much “cooler” to say you’re bungee jumping off a remote mountain pass overhang in New Mexico than updating your status that you’re watching the latest episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

Imagine a world that reintroduces people to live their own realities, rather than watching someone else’s. Perhaps people have come to the realization that, in reality (pun intended), it’s much cooler to lead their own lives.

Businesses Need to Find Their Niche

The same holds true for corporate behavior in social media. For corporations, trying to be too many things to too many people is costly.

Historically, we’ve seen the “we are the best at everything” messaging come out of many marketing departments. In a 140-character world, if you want to have a chance at helping the consumer retain something and eventually pass it on, it’s crucial that you focus on your strengths or particular niche.

There’s also a need for continuous information exchange across the entire organization; in particular, it’s critical for production and marketing to be in constant contact. It’s one thing for marketing to listen to consumers’ complaints, but it’s an entirely different thing to respond to their complaints, look for trends in product deficiencies, and work closely with production to develop solutions.

To stay relevant, businesses or individuals must:

  • Realize everyone is watching — just ask Tiger Woods.
  • Be true to your brand, whether it’s your personal brand or company.
  • Realize we’re all human and make mistakes. Hopefully people are forgiving when each of our times come.

Two keywords when it comes to social media: fun and common sense. Have plenty of both.

Erik Qualman’s international best-seller, “Socialnomics,” is available for sale at all major bookstores.

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