Living Online: Where Do You Draw the Line?


Ask most anyone and they’ll likely tell you that I’m an open book. If I have something to say it’s said.  If it’s about someone it’s said to their face. That, or it’s something I have no problem saying to their face (if I already haven’t 🙂

No pun intended, but that said, it seems appropriate that I write a blog entitled “Life Online” because that’s where my life is. Between Facebook, Twitter and this Blog, most of my life is streamed online.

I pretty much see myself as a sort of social experiment trying to answer the question, ‘where’s the line’? How far does one take social media? Where does that line between professional and personal blur? How much personality should one reveal/infuse?

For me, there isn’t much I wouldn’t put online about myself as long as it harms none. Maybe it’s my age or perhaps generation, or that I don’t feel I have much to hide, or that I live without regrets; likely it’s a combination. Maybe it’s not though. I can think of a couple peers right away that don’t even have their cell phone number on their business cards because that’s too personal for them to hand out. Personally, I’d rather not have my desk phone number on my cards (if you had our voicemail system you’d probably understand). Call or text my cell, if I can’t talk at that moment I’ll call you back as soon as possible. Call my desk phone and leave a message…I’m not checking that for a week at least. I’m not saying, I’m just sayin’.

But back to that question, Where do you draw the line and post too much about yourself? Is there even a line at all? I can’t answer that for you but for me I know I’m still figuring it all out but I have a pretty good idea.

This weekend in particular, has made me ponder this question even more so. With the deaths of both of my grandparents, each a day apart, I was torn with how appropriate it would be to Tweet something related to the topic. I expect that many will disagree with me on this but if you are ok with sharing the good things the bad should be shared as well. That balance, or struggle between negative and positive is what makes us whole, makes us human. I think the Jason Lee phrase from Vanilla Sky sums it up best, “the sweet ain’t as sweet without the sour.”

Moreover, as marketers, if we are to truly claim that we make connections online and preach to our clients that relationships between the brand and the consumer need to be genuine then we ourselves have be real with each other. And being real means bringing up the stuff that no one else wants to talk about sometimes; be that death, bankruptcy, job loss, etc. These things are all a part of life, a part of our relationships and relationships are built on conversations.

This brings me to another question; how can one say you know someone but not have a clue what their life is like? This is part of the reason why I have a hard time following Guy Kawasaki on Twitter. The man is a marketing genius, don’t get me wrong here. But his Tweets are not much more than alltop promos. I couldn’t guess and tell you what his sense of humor or personality is like through his Tweets. But follow someone like Chris Brogan, and especially the hysterical and often arygle infused exchanges between David Armano and Russ Unger and you have a pretty good idea of what hanging out with these chaps over drinks would be like. All the while, these guys and others are talking shop and sharing the great links and ideas they create and encounter. They provide value by maintaining approachablity and being honest; not by strictly “being professional”. Often by “being professional” we come across as uncaring and unfeeling…robotic. Who wants to interact with someone like that? Who would want to intereact and do business with a brand like that.

Not I. (although I may make an exception for my lawyer or accountant :P)

I am human. I have emotions. I cry, I laugh; and sometimes that’s at the same time. I write what I think and what I feel. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s totally fine. I just suggest they stop reading because I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. We don’t know how much of that we each have.

To tie this back to brands, Brands are nothing more than an amalgam of human personalities and traits, relationships and conversations. As such brands should show a certain degree of emotion too.

I hope that writing at 4:40am and under this much personal stress hasn’t made too much of a mess of this post. Writing my thoughts out makes me feel better as it’s a nice diversion and outlet for me. I will likely pull this down and re-work it so it’s more fluid. Until then though comments and thoughts are greatly appreciated.

—–

Much love to 2 of the best grandparents ever. Your lives were certainly not easy but the memories you’ve given me are forever cherished. I hope you are both at peace now.

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8 responses to “Living Online: Where Do You Draw the Line?

  1. This is an interesting question. I've never really disected were I draw the line. My cell phone is for both personal & business and is all over the net I'm sure. My Tweets & my Facebook mix business & personal. I don't really get super personal online but I think (hope) you get a sense of my personality. You'd probably know better than me though.

    P.S. Not a bad post for that time in the morning. 🙂

  2. Great question. It’s a heavy topic. I want to give it some thought and reply a little later when I can type on something other than my phone.

  3. Hi Christine,

    I re-read this and I’m trying to break this down into smaller bites because I think there’s a lot here. Would you say these 3 questions are a fair representation of what questions you are asking?

    1) Where is the professional boundary or standard for sharing personal information with your online audience?

    2) What’s the value of social networking if you don’t get to know individuals (good and bad)?

    3) Are we (as blogger, texters, etc…) just projecting our “individual brands” or are we “expressing ourselves as human beings?”

    It’s a very interesting spectrum here. I think they’re all connected and messy (in a good way). So much of this tracks back to what we do as marketers. It’s really interesting but before I dive too deep into this I wanted to make sure I was hearing you correctly.

    The other angle I was thinking about is… we’ve created this dynamic by using social networking tools to further our professional careers by posting our professional opinions on professional topics. Everyone is watching to our bosses to hour high school friends who don’t really understand what we do. To make things even more complicated some of us have become more influential as individual bloggers than the organizations that employe us. Take David Armano as an example. He probably have a louder voice and more “followers” than the company he is employed by. I believe in the long run it will ultimately be a good thing but it creates some interesting problems (good and bad).

    The short answer that I can give you is… relationships, personal or professional are built on authenticity and trust. Authenticity and trust cross all kinds of lines because they connect to who we are as people. Without those elements it’s hard to connect deeper into emotions and ultimately intimacy. I believe that successful (and healthy) relationships, whether it’s a blog or a best friend need emotions to stay engaged. As long as you’re authentic and honest 99.9% of people will get it. Those that don’t, probably aren’t wired the same way you are. They may be looking for something else anyway and that’s okay. I guess the other filter that I use is… would my mother be okay with this if she read it? If you can pass that test you’re on the right track most of the time.

    Let me know if those 3 questions are close. I’ll try and put some more thinking around it.

  4. First, Patrick and Amy, let me say thank you for the comments!

    Patrick, I believe you in turn have given me something to ponder before I fully respond but yes I feel like all 3 of those questions are spot on. I’m glad you could gleam that from my messy late night post 🙂

    I want to think some more on this as the last 2 paragraphs of your comment have some great points! I look forward to continuing this discussion with you!

    Happy New year all!

  5. How I love a post that stirs up some good stuff! I notice that when I give a glimpse into some of the “bad” in my life, the lurkers come out and post on my blog. While I prefer to be positive with my posting, I also believe in being authentic. I am not an open book, although I like to believe I am. Then again, I take that back…being an open book is boring. There is nothing wrong with a little mystery. When I have met some of my blogging buddies in person, they are no where near as exciting as they are online. I have no problem with that, because what I see in front of me (in person) is real and I appreciate real way more than a fake person online. I don’t believe you can completely be professional and take out the personal. They both go hand in hand.

  6. I think for the most part, I decided a while back that the maintenance of multiple projections of self would be a pain in the butt, and perhaps even unhealthy for my psyche. I thinking there may in fact be some boundary between private and public, but this doesn’t mean you can’t instill your online personality, be it twitter, Facebook, or on blogs – with a good degree of personality. I think if their is a continuum of disclosure with staid/marketing/cold impersonal on one end of the spectrum and free-wheeling, full-frontal on the other, I have opted to be exactly the person in real life as I am online. In a professional setting, at conferences, on conference calls, with clients – they deserve and are paying for professionalism and all the skills I can bring to bare on a project; but many clients enjoy following me on twitter – even when I am a bit crass, honest, brutal and sometimes just fun-loving – they know what they are getting, and they appreciate the honestly and candor.
    For some professionals, this isn’t neccessarily possible because their career demands a different tone, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be human, they can’t reflect at least some aspects of their authentic selves. I think as we explore these new medium/s we’ll learn a lot – and maybe I’ll learn I have made a lot of mistakes, but that just aligns with my personal/professional belief that it’s better to fail early and fail often. You don’t learn much from your successes, at least not as much as from your failures.

  7. Reminds me of something I’ve often pondered…

    “We’re All Friends Here, Right?”

    http://www.userglue.com/blog/2008/04/17/were-all-friends-here-arent-we/

    It’s also what David and I are sort of talking about at SXSW; Friendship is Dead…

    There’s an issue with identity, self, how you manage those things.

    Why doesn’t Facebook have a BFF function? Mother? Father? And how am I friends with a brand?

    I think a lot of the digital space is forcing us to enhance our more analog space (in-person, and dare I say telephone/mobile/skype–something with voicecoms) because of the much more personal, closed way of talking.

    Hell, I’m guessing the back-channels are more back-active than any of us know, and I bet all of our back-channels are more back-active than we’d admit.

    I’ve only been thinking about this for a few years now, so I could keep going…

    But I’ll spare you. 🙂

  8. ive read this a few times, kinda to chew it up and digest it and see what comes out the other end(office anyone??) and i have to say that in my opinion, if its on a blog or in “real life” people will get as close to us as we let them…if you blog and respond to comments, its like you are making the effort, some bloggers wont respond to comments or even want comments….

    its also a product of our environment…you live in a big city, i live in a small town…i can go shopping or just be out and there are people there who know me from work, they know about my job, and what i do….small town…i bet you can go out and be totally anonymous…i have had people call me at home about work stuff….i dont mind….i too have friends who wont list phone numbers, stuff like that….for me if you really need to get a hold of me call me, text me , IM me, email me…whatever….im here if ya need me….

    can you post too much personal info?? well i guess you can…but if you have your name or contact info, if someone really wants to find you they can….now im not saying that i would post SUPER personal stuff, i mean i wont post the details of my last doctor visit, trust me, you dont want to know, but if you know me, either on line or in real life, you already know that stuff, well most of it….
    lets take us for example, i just “met” you….we have exchanged FB notes and wrote on each others walls…how well do you know me?? not too well, but if you want to, you can learn more about me, get to know me…and the same goes for me…
    i do have some friends i met online, whom i have never met in person, but i consider them good friends of mine, i even sent a couple of them a christmas card this year, and believe me this years card was a great one…but anyways….im not sure if i answered your question or not…im not even sure if this made any sense, and its only 912pm…..

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