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2 Avatars: My work self and my personal self

Posted by Amy Wilson on April 7, 2010


Do you share work secrets with the whole world?

The line between work and personal worlds is blurry.  This is particularly the case for knowledge workers – we tend to think our work is interesting enough to talk about at a cocktail party (though our spouses and partners might disagree) and I’ll be the first to admit that, despite my occasional surge to re-connect with high school and college pals, most of my Facebook friends are work colleagues.  I like people in my industry and I’m interested in their personal lives.

Is there a difference between work and personal?

There is a difference, but it’s not about who I connect with, rather the context in which I engage in conversation.  My work colleagues expect me to share pictures of my kid and rave about my husband’s latest cooking venture on Facebook.  They expect me to ask for help on my (top secret) research project or share a quote from a ravingly positive customer internally – typically email at this stage.

Could I share work information on a network rather than email?  Absolutely.  I used to send pictures and updates to friends via email.  Now I put it on Facebook.  It took some time to get used to it and a critical tipping point of friends on the network, but the shift happened.  This same shift is due to happen with work networks.  Rather than send an email to a group, invariably leaving off someone who would have benefited from the information or could have provided the feedback I need, I could leverage my work network in much the same way I leverage Facebook.

Why not put work updates on Facebook and direct it to work colleagues?

Security is the obvious answer (oops!  I didn’t mean to send that to everyone! … makes the “reply to all” to the whole company look benign doesn’t it?), but I think it’s also about context and purpose.  Even though the mechanics and the overarching concept is the same (connect, share, learn), the purpose is to get work done and the context is that it is valuable to my work.

Is Facebook a waste of time?

I just said that the purpose of an internal network is to get work done and the conversations that occur are valuable to my work.  Does this mean that external networks are not valuable to my work?  First of all, I believe that personal conversations are valuable to one’s work.  They set a foundation for trust, respect, and shared enthusiasm.  That said, the purpose of Facebook is not to facilitate work collaboration.   I do occasionally share a work triumph – a well received presentation, a blog I’m particularly proud of – for the purposes of building my external reputation and brand.  So that brings me to my next question …

Is my external brand different than my internal brand?

This gets into even blurrier territory, especially since so many social media players are actually external workers.  Independent analysts, marketers, consultants, for the most part, do not have internal, private work lives.  Their work brand and reputation is completely external.

This is not the case for most knowledge workers.  Many are starting to dabble in the world of an external presence or brand, but for the most part, their career is based on their reputation and identity within their company.  Finance, IT, R&D, even Sales do the majority of their work inside the company.  Why can’t they enjoy the benefits of network collaboration – innovation, productivity, engagement – inside the work environment?

Where does LinkedIn fit into this?  And Twitter?  I don’t know.  What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this …

4 Responses to “2 Avatars: My work self and my personal self”

  1. There’s a great conversation about this post on your facebook status announcing it, my take is that I do not have two avatars, I am the same person and I am fine if people I work with knowing something of my personal life because of facebook, twitter or becasue I run they run into my wife playing with our kids in the park above the Oracle Open World conference and get chatting. Many of my best friends work at Oracle.

    I am very careful to share only work information that is allowed to a particular audience, but that does not mean I try to be different person at work or at home.

  2. Meg Bear said

    Believe it or not I have thought a lot about this. When I first started getting familiar with social media I thought of it as an experiment on myself.

    I was trying to understand how I would feel about my online presence as my network grew. Would I feel strange when my mom was reading my updates? What about my boss? My peers? My old high school friends? What about distant relatives who had wildly different social, religious or political views than mine (ok, this one probably the hardest!).

    At some point I decided, similar to you, that each tool has a unique purpose for me
    a) facebook is first and foremost a way to spam people about my children. If you are not interested in my kids you can probably just ignore all my updates.
    b) twitter is much more a resource than a pasttime. Here I like to think about sharing things that might be useful/interesting to others. It is also where I get a lot of my research. So while I might also put a few personal updates out there, I’m much more likely to re-tweet thoughts that I think others might find interesting and/or ask for help on things others might know
    c) blogging is my “give back” venue. If I have something I want to offer that is longer than 140 characters I’ll probably blog it
    d) LinkedIn is more about reminding me those details about people I am terrible at remembering — who worked where before and for how long — the “how do I know that person again?” resource — it’s also quite helpful to remind me what years I myself worked in what jobs. If only I could get it to have a way to keep track of who in my extended family had what child when (right now that seems to be my sisters job).

    In the end, I came to the conclusion that I am all those things. The bragging mom, the geeky industry researcher, the friend who wants to remember what university you went to, but probably does not, and the family member who most likely can’t remember how old you are. I no longer worry about if others find my thoughts/views/toothfairy updates overkill, I figure that’s what filter tools are all about.

    Did I mention that I think Authenticity is the new black?😉

    -Meg

  3. Valerie Haas said

    Salesforce.com is directly addressing the need for internal work collaboration ala Twitter and Facebook with a solution called “Chatter”. As a salesforce employee we are the ‘beta’ users and it’s been very cool to see how Chatter has removed communication barriers, provided transparency up and down the corporate hierarchy and has enabled employees to share their knowledge much more freely and with a larger reach than ever before. Some of the most compelling benefits have been from a sales perspective. For example, I can post to Chatter that “I am selling to Acme company and competing against competitor X. Has anyone ever replaced this competitor?”. Before I know it, people I may not even know and aren’t in my immediate “network” are posting that they are friends with the decision maker and others are posting presentations and personal stories about competing with competitor X. It is pretty compelling stuff.

    • Amy Wilson said

      Hi Val,
      I love the back story on this – that we connected on LinkedIn and you saw this post on my profile and you found it interesting/relevant to you. Terrific social media story.🙂

      Cheers,
      Amy

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