When I first started exploring the use of social media for marketing by starting my own account on Twitter, I made one decision immediately. Twitter was an extension of my office that just happened to be open 24/7. Since I mentioned our company name in my Twitter bio, I was essentially always “on the clock”.
I have done my best in approximately four years online to avoid saying anything I’d be ashamed to say to a client or to a relative. Some might say I go too far in this regard (I won’t share a pin from Pinterest if it has an f-bomb in it, even if it’s REALLY funny), but it has always made sense to me to treat the online world as a universe of business casual.
The tricky thing about the online world, perhaps especially for marketers, is that we are constantly told that authenticity is essential, but aren’t exactly told the difference between authenticity and TMI. What makes a person seem like a human versus a spambot is one thing. Over-sharing is quite another.
Another spoke in this wheel of confusion is that marketing leaders are advised to show their “emotional intelligence” to connect with team members. As this 2012 article from The Lead Change Group explains, “Emotional intelligence is defined by the ability to understand and manage our emotions and those around us.” You might be tempted to establish your emotional intelligence by sharing with your team when something bothers you, then using that feeling and that event to show your emotional IQ.
Being real versus sharing unreal amounts of information
As this article from Harvard Business notes, sometimes the desire to connect, show your emotional intelligence or be “authentic” can get people into trouble.
In the offline world, your over-sharing could be categorized as too much whining, as confrontational, as passive-aggressive or other things you do not intend at all.
In the online world, the situation can get even more out of control. In person you get signals from the person you are talking to – facial expressions or perhaps a “Dude…TMI!” In the online world people can share whatever they want, and most people don’t feel it is appropriate to critique what a person chooses to share.
I have seen tweets during SXSW about lost pairs of pants. I have seen pictures of injuries and updates about perpetual illness. I have seen posts about how “My boss (me) is giving me the rest of the day off.”
If you are the leader of a marketing team, particularly a team that is connected digitally, this kind of over-sharing can be very off-putting for your team members. Why aren’t you working more? Are you always sick? On the other side of the coin, if you are heading up a marketing team and you see these kinds of posts from one of your team members, you may raise an eyebrow and wonder if they are working as hard as they should.
Moreover, let us not forget that as marketers, we are an extension of our company and clients. If you mention clients from the same account where you talk about how drunk you got on Saturday night, that is problematic for your employer and your clients. In the online world, you are always “on,” whether you want to be or not.
Where is that line again?
I got into an argument with a friend recently about this issue. They posted something in a public stream that I thought made them and everyone who participated look bad. I noted that if I didn’t know them, I’d be wondering what kinds of professionals they really were. The response I got was that at least they were being real (another word for authentic). My censoring of myself, my refraining from sharing anything that comes to mind, made me seem less real or less authentic.
In the end, every person who posts online needs to decide for him or herself how they are going to approach the online world. As marketers, however, it is important to err on the side of caution. We are not just representing our companies, we are representing our clients too.
I always picture what would happen if one of our clients saw me post this or that. Would it make them really wonder about me as a person? Would it freak them out a little because it’s too personal or too…detailed? Or too raunchy? If I wouldn’t share something with a client in person, I don’t share it online. It’s just that simple.
Does that make me less authentic? You tell me.
Marjorie Clayman is VP of Client Services at her family’s full service marketing firm,Clayman Marketing Communications. For more from Margie on the Vocus Blog, click here.