When a Colleague is a "Friend": Facebook Users Get a Crash Course in Reputation Management

Early users of Facebook and other social networking sites now find colleagues, customers and bosses on their profile list. As their Friend lists have expanded to include more professional contacts, they've had to monitor their profiles more carefully.

By C.G. Lynch
Tue, March 04, 2008

CIO — As more professionals sign up for Facebook, the site's earliest users are finding they must reevaluate how they manage their profiles and the information posted to them, according to experts in online identity and reputation management.

The extensive amount of personal information Facebook asks people to share — including political views, religious affiliation and relationship status — presents a conundrum for users of all ages who have begun networking with customers, colleagues and superiors via the world's fastest growing social network.

"You really want to sit back and analyze something that you put in your profile," says Kirsten Dixson, a personal branding strategist who helps people with online reputation management. "It's fine to share those personal activities and views if you feel so passionately about them, but you need to put on a professional lens when you read that content."

Early Facebook users (most of whom are in their early 20s) have grappled with this issue since the service opened its doors to professionals in May 2006, following a quick progression in which the social network became more and more open to new members.

Alison Driscoll, 22, who works as a marketing copywriter and who pens a blog on marketing, joined Facebook while a student at Boston University, which was one of the first non-Ivy League schools to join the network. "My roommate and I were very proud of this fact and joined as we heard about this cool new way to procrastinate," she says.

Driscoll took a job working for a small company outside Boston that specializes in search engine optimization and social networking. Between her job and her blog, she knew many people outside her regular circle of friends would want to friend her. (She declined to name her employer.)

"My profile is private, meaning only friends can see it," she says. "But I vacillate on whether this a good or bad idea. I feel like people reading my blog may want to check out my profile without having to friend me. However, I want to friend people who read or follow me, so it's a catch-22."

Despite keeping her profile private, however, she's maintained a professional feel. "I was warned by several professors [before she graduated] to 'clean it up,'" she says. "My profile is still very representative of my personal life, but acceptable for the professional realm I work in."

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