The Rise Of The Profersonal In Social Media

The following is a guest post from Future Buzz community member Andrew HanellyIf you’d like to contribute thinking here, please read the guidelines.

In the past year, social media was the vehicle that drove several high-profile careers off a cliff.

Pro athlete Larry Johnson tweeted a homophobic slur that resulted in a fan petition calling for his removal from the Kansas City Chiefs. He was later suspended.

Gilbert Gottfried lost his gig as the voice of the Aflac duck for making a joke about the aftermath of a devastating tsunami in Japan.

Journalist Octavia Nasr was fired for a controversial Tweet that violated CNN’s social media policy.

But high-profile celebrities weren’t the only “victims” in our era of real-time transparency.

Agencies lost clients.

Businesses turned off customers.

And organizations were embarrassed.

The common thread in all of these social media meltdowns is that the “person” took the wheel and the “professional” took the back seat.

In other words, caught in the heat of the moment, (or in a fit of passion) these people acted very … well, human (in many cases, however, still inappropriately so).

Can we blame them? The beauty of social media is that people are allowed to finally be themselves. Transparency, authenticity and all that, right?

Gone is the carefully planned company line and here to stay is the spontaneous and often unchecked ad-libbed line.

But if this “be yourself” mantra is the driving force behind social media’s mass adoption, then why do we come down with such a heavy hand on those that embrace it?

Because deep down we still have expectations for people who are representing a brand. And as much as we want to say social media is the pinnacle of freedom of expression, if you are tied to an organization, your social media outbursts could bring them down with you. It is, in one word: irresponsible.

Which is why we need to look at this sobering piece of reality: when you use social media, you forfeit the right to truly be yourself with no holds barred. Holds are definitely barred.

Whether you’re managing official accounts or feeding your own, directly or indirectly, you are linked to the company that helps you pay your bills (if you don’t like it, find a new line of work).

If you represent an organization, (and anyone who receives a paycheck from an organization does) you’re going to need to start acting like a profersonal (if you haven’t done the math, that’s professional blended with personal).

The lines are irreversibly blurred between our personal and professional lives. There is no more “privacy” or protected content online. Only content waiting to be found like ticking time bombs we never needed to create.

Here are the new rules we must live by:

Act as if anyone will be able to read what you write, track you down, connect you to your organization, and have chaos ensue. When we look at the example of Detroit Motor city Tweet and also the Red Cross Tweet we see that this excuse was used: “I thought I was sending it from my personal account.” If the Twitter users behind those accounts employed this logic, the mistake never would have happened.

Don’t swear, get political, get preachy or do anything else you wouldn’t do at an all-hands meeting. It may seem disconnected from your work life while you’re ranting from your dark basement, but when the lights come on, everyone can see the proverbial logo you wear.

Have fun, but make sure it’s good, clean fun. The kind you might have with Shrek, not Charlie Sheen. The kind the Bronx Zoo Cobra had back in the day.

Continue to treat social media like a cocktail party. But make sure it doesn’t turn into an 8 day bender where you end up in a Las Vegas suite with a tiger.

I’ll probably be called conservative, scared, and several unprintable names for putting together this shiny, corporate-friendly post. But it’s the truth, and embracing it will be liberating and finally rid us of the false anxiety of thinking that some of our social media content is personal and some of it is professional.

If you have a job, all of your social media activity is both personal and professional. It’s profersonal. It’s the era we live in.

Andrew creates and executes digital strategies for clients at TMG Custom Media.  You can follow him on Twitter and check out his posts on Engage the Blog.

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