Sunday, April 26, 2009

"33 Million People in the Room!"

Career Couch
The Online Divide Between Work and Play
Published: April 25, 2009
Q. A growing number of colleagues have requested to connect with you on social networking Web sites. You have mixed feelings about giving these professional contacts a window into your personal life. What should you do?
Chris Reed
A. Proceed with caution. While it may seem harmless to establish virtual connections with your officemates, doing so might put you in an uncomfortable position at work, says Juliette Powell, who runs a career consulting business and wrote a book about social networking, “33 Million People in the Room.”
Social networking is “all about establishing boundaries,” she says. “If you have something online that you wouldn’t share openly with people in the office, you probably want to think twice about inviting them in.”
Q. Are some social networking outlets more business-oriented than others?
A. Of four popular sites — LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter — only LinkedIn limits users to posting business-related information like work experience and professional recommendations.
Q. What are the professional benefits of connecting with colleagues via online sites?
A. Employees can use them to complement their professional networks — a virtual extension of the traditional Rolodex. Artists post on MySpace and Twitter to advertise their work. Job seekers use LinkedIn as a way to exchange interview tips.
Daniel Simon, an associate at a private ophthalmology practice in Charlotte, N.C., says he often follows a Facebook group to share experiences and discuss techniques with fellow eye surgeons.
“It’s a great way to see what other specialists are doing around the country,” he says. “We can share videos, have discussions and post links to articles you might not otherwise get a chance to find.”
Some small businesses even conduct everyday operations over social networking sites. Serena Software, an application development company in Redwood City, Calif., uses Facebook as an unofficial company intranet, encouraging employees to share documents, post PowerPoint presentations and exchange e-mail messages there.
The company even allows employees an hour every Friday to explore the site and update their profiles. “We’re trying to achieve maximum collaboration,” says Rene Bonvanie, senior vice president for marketing. “If people are using this site for personal reasons anyway, why not encourage them to use it here, too?”
Q. What are the potential pitfalls?
A. Public embarrassment, for one. Comments on many social networking sites, much like blogs, exist forever, meaning that a person can access them at any time, read them and pass judgment accordingly.
Photographs can become a nuisance, too. Especially on a site like Facebook, where someone’s approved contacts can “tag” a user in a photo, there’s a chance that colleagues might come across images of you behaving wildly years ago at a college party, or performing drunken karaoke last weekend, or worse.
“Any time the camera comes out these days, there’s a chance the resulting photos will be on the Internet within hours,” says Nathan T. Wright, founder of Lava Row, a social media strategy firm in Des Moines. “If you’re going to have work people on these sites, you need to understand this threat.”
Dismissal is even possible if you post something unflattering about your employer in a status update or other feature that can be viewed by everyone on your network.
Q. To what extent can you control the information your connections see?
A. Every social networking Web site works differently. On LinkedIn, where all information is business-related, users can choose which information to include in their public profiles. On Twitter, most posts, or “tweets,” are public.
Nick O’Neill, who writes the independent “All Facebook” blog, recently published a guide to mastering the site’s new privacy settings. The post detailed ways that users can organize friends into certain lists, and select which of those friends sees what.
It also explained how users can prevent profiles from coming up in standard Google searches.
“Most Facebook users don’t even know these features are options,” says Mr. O’Neill, who also owns a digital media company in Washington. “I can’t tell you how many people sign up and don’t ever think about privacy again.”
Q. If you wish to decline certain connection requests, what is the most polite approach?
A. Be honest and consistent. Rachel Weingarten, president of the Octagon Strategy Group, a consulting firm in New York, says employees who wish to avoid colleagues on certain social networking sites should respond to every request by explaining that they’d rather put all work contacts into one particular social network, or designate all social networking sites for connections made outside of work.
These sorts of policies must be applied equally, she says. “The last thing you want is to accept some requests but decline others, then have the people you’ve rejected find out they didn’t make the cut,” she says. In the world of modern office politics, she adds, “that’s about as bad as it gets.”


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