your pr career… Walking the Social Networking Tightrope by Courtney Vaught

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Remember when we used Facebook to write funny comments on friends’ walls about the previous night’s blunders or to post pictures to keep memories alive? Now Facebook antics bear the same brunt of judgment as walking into work on Friday covered in sharpie drawings.

I recently read a blog post by Ari Adler titled, “Facebook Users Show Two Faces to the World,” discussing how some Facebook users are creating separate profiles for their professional and personal lives. This made me think about the challenges new professionals face in the expanding social media world–Facebook specifically. As Facebook’s 35-and-older demographic continues to expand, we are seeing our parents, aunts, uncles, clients and employers join in on a world that used to exist only within college walls.

The new professional’s generation (i.e. Millenials or gen Y) started using social media years ago, in a very different environment, for vastly different purposes than today. This is where I believe some of us find our struggle.

Personally, I maintain stubborn grounds in wanting to keep the fun, ridiculous college memories up for all to see. I say, if you have a problem with my photos, don’t look at them. However, some comments about my photos from colleagues led me to cave and block all the pictures on my profile. (Boo, I know.)

However, after discussing this topic with some fellow new professionals, I have found that I’m not alone. A former classmate of mine had an interview with a PR agency scheduled, but was e-mailed with a cancellation note a few days before the interview. When asked why the interview had been cancelled, the agency’s answer was that it had something to do with “social media content.”  My former classmate has since taken down all Facebook pictures and continues to monitor content closely. (And if you are curious, my former classmate was able to find a position at another PR agency.)

Others haven’t had as much trouble with their Facebook content but have taken similar steps to protect their reputation–and jobs. Jennie Ecclestone, General Motors, blocked all of her pictures and posts selective albums for public viewing. Ashley Mead, Fleishman-Hillard PR, closely monitors all photos that are tagged of her and “maintains a very genuine approach” in everything she has on her profile, and Nikki Stephan, Franco PR, uncluttered her profile by deleting all of the applications.

All of these privacy techniques may protect you professionally, but it begs the question, is this defeating the whole purpose of social networking sites? Are you really showing who you are when you have to monitor the content and only place pictures that show you in one, highly-monitored light? It’s an extremely fine line, one that I don’t think anyone has successfully balanced on yet.

Have you balanced on the social networking tightrope? Leave us your comments!

Courtney Vaught is an account coordinator at Eisbrenner PR and a member-at-large for the PRSA New Professionals Executive Committee. Contact her on Twitter @CourtV. 

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