Privacy vs sharing in social media (there’s no technical fix for judgment)

Many professionals steer away from social media because they’re concerned that sharing socially means giving up privacy.

Fortunately, social sharing and privacy are not the same thing.

We share constantly with other people whether at school, work, when we’re buying lunch, or just checking out of a store without worrying that we will inadvertently blurt out commercial-in-confidence information about our jobs. Social media is no different.

It’s up to us to set the boundaries of what we talk about.

So what is the fear?

The fear here is the speed at which information on social media travels as well as the billions of people a message can reach. While that’s what we’re striving for when it’s about our content or a great review we’ve had, the real concern is what happens if something goes wrong.

Let’s face it there’s nothing like a mistake to induce mass mania and because of the huge coverage these events get (usually negative) fear sets in.

I can understand this anxiety.

A lot of people are worried they might inadvertently say something wrong and trigger a social media storm that damages their reputation. While that’s possible, those of us who use social media platforms daily know that most of the time what is going on online is business as usual.

A business can set a social media policy that limits what employees discuss and personally, it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with. Being personal doesn’t mean sharing private details.

But remember, social media is about creating relationships, which means being human and not a cardboard-cut-out. Some people are happy to share family snaps of their day at the beach; others prefer to give their opinion on a piece that they’ve read. The real value in social is that you are there and willing to engage.

You can also follow these simple rules:

1. Don’t put people down.
2. Avoid getting involved in controversial issues.
3. Be cautious about jokes – they are easily misunderstood.
4. Remember you are responsible for what you say.

There’s nothing new in this sort of etiquette.

But over-sharing can bite you?

It’s true that because we live in a digital world, part of what defines us is our digital footprint.

Right now search engines can pull up enormous amounts of information about people (although the courts recently introduced a ‘right to forget’ for Google in Europe) including from their social media profiles.

Given that young people are digital natives confident with technology, that what we do online is stored, and that behaviourally adolescents are prone to risk-taking and over-sharing, many fear this could have a negative impact on future career prospects.

My view is that, as with any period of dramatic social change, they are all growing up in the same boat.

We’re in this boat too.

Were you from an era of thick-framed spectacles and Harry High pants? Did you wear bell-bottoms or kaftans? Has this continued to haunt you as you moved through university into professional life? I hope not. We shouldn’t condemn that photo of us in a psychedelic shirt any more that ones of ourselves in nappies. They mark different phases of life. We should look at them and say – that was appropriate for the age I was at and the time I was in. Then move on.

I also think that we need to be cautious about throwing stones. Remember that as this issue plays out it will have relevance to billions of people. Let’s hope that compels us to deal with it sensibly.

For example, when we’re hiring staff we now have enormous amounts of data on prospective employees before we even decide to interview them. Some organisations assess social media as part of search. This is legitimate. But we need to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Does it really matter that two years earlier there’s a party-hard photo at a university bash? Is this the whole picture? Is this ‘them’? We can focus instead on legitimate skills, acceptable behaviours, and their potential over youthful ‘mistakes’.

Good judgment is not a technical fix

Professionals can use social media to learn and share information they’re interested in andform real relationships with real people for mutual benefit without having to become open books.

You should practice:

1. Diplomacy
2. Discernment.
3. Discretion.

As we know from working with different people, being a boundary-less blabbermouth is not a technical issue and there’s no technical fix.

Who we are in real life is about personal values and behaviour. And it’s the same online.

(Note: Privacy in a technological era, cybercrime, and identity theft are important issues beyond the scope of this post.)

Click to buy The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business.

Dionne Kasian-Lew is the author of The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business (Wiley). Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter @dionnelew, email

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