When it comes to social networking, where’s the line between personal and professional? My answer, in form of the article “Linking In and Face(book)ing Off,” recently ran in Multilingual . Feel free to read it below:
From LinkedIn to Facebook, we as individuals are much more visible on-line than we used to be. The opportunities to see and be seen grow every day as sites like XING, Ryze and Spoke enter the scene alongside more personal social networking websites like MySpace and Match.com. What this means for a translator is that instead of your cleverly crafted ProZ.com page or the well-written biographical paragraph on your company website, prospective clients could very well stumble upon pictures of you at your cousin’s bachelorette party instead. And even if you keep your social networking page risqué-photo free, that’s not to say your cousin might not put those pictures online herself, which means that snapshot of you drinking beer in nothing but a cowboy hat would be just as findable in for clients. Before, the running joke was you only had to watch out for things like that if you ran for office. But now, thanks to the internet, all those youthful party nights could be posted and searchable, whether you inhaled or not.
The fact of the matter is, whereas prospective clients used to learn more about you from you or other human references, such as mutual acquaintances, they now tend to Google search you as an individual. Yes, if you work for a language service provider, they’ll most likely Google the LSP, too, but first they’re going to Google you. Combine that with the fact that most people don’t fully understand their Facebook or MySpace privacy settings, and those pictures you only meant for your friends to see might come up in a prospective client’s search long before any well-prepared, professional information you may have posted. And with a search spider that changes its algorithms with the will of the gods, the way Google determines what web surfers see and the order in which they see it is unpredictable at best, meaning you don’t know which hits the searcher will get to first.
Of course, if you followed my mother’s advice, you would act with decorum at all times, meaning there wouldn’t be anything that a prospective client could find that you wouldn’t want him to see. Drunk college photos wouldn’t exist and there’d be nothing embarrassing for you or your cousin to post to begin with. But, no matter who you are, dear reader, I’m willing to guess that at some point in your life, you’ve done at least one thing you wouldn’t want your mother to know about. Rule number one: If you wouldn’t want your mother to know about it, don’t put it on Facebook (or any other similar site). Period.
Rule number two: If you wouldn’t put it on your Facebook page, don’t let your friends put it on their pages either. How do you find out if this has been done? Facebook should tell you you’ve been tagged (Facebook lingo for “labeled” or “named”) in a photograph. It’s a default setting that can’t be changed. If this happens, simply click on the link telling you this has happened. It should bring you to the picture, where you can click “untag.” Once you’ve untagged yourself, no one can tag you back. It won’t remove the picture, but it will remove your name from it, which is the important part. Names are what’s searchable.
But for those of you who like to do embarrassing things on a regular basis and who want to put pictures up for the internet world to see–hey, those folks are out there–there are ways to get around this. They all boil down to rule number three: keep your private and your professional lives separate. On or off-line, this is simply a good guideline to follow. The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care recommends a similar division as part of its code of ethics for interpreters; the French live it out as a national way of life. Just as no prospective client wants to see you at your cousin’s bachelorette, no friend wants to hear you go on about work all the time. It’s simply a good rule. But when we switch on that computer, some of us forget. And like the eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings, the lidless eye of Google sees all.
This brings me to rule number three: use an alias for personal networking and your real name for professional networking. In the least, it’s a chance to get creative. You can make up a regular-sounding pen name (ex, Suzanne Smith) or take your initials and turn them into a name—for example, my initials “TB,” could be “Tee Bee” online. Or, you could pay tribute to a historical or literary figure you like (ex, Annie Oakley or Frodo Baggins). Again, names are what are searchable here. Using a pseudonym will allow you to maintain a personal profile without inadvertently mixing in your professional life and without having unwelcome hits from prospective clients on your personal page. It’s also much safer should you ever be stalked.
Rule number four: Know which networking sites are personal and which are professional. LinkedIn, XING, Ryze and Spoke are all professional. Facebook, MySpace and Friendster are personal. Keep them that way. Currently, I have 97 Facebook “friends.” Only three of them were originally work contacts and I thought long and hard before adding each one. Simply put, as the CEO of an LSP, it does nothing for my or my company’s image for prospective clients or contractors to see pictures of me dancing the Electric Slide at my cousin’s wedding–note I did NOT say bachelorette party. The three work contacts I have on Facebook are individuals who I would consider friends in real life, contractors–note I did not say clients–who I’ve come to know and who I would be proud to Electric Slide with in real life any day.
Rule number five: When it comes to your career, Link(ed)In and Face(book) off. The LSP owner or freelance linguist who does not make good use of online social marketing is missing out on a globally-sized chance to get her name out there. Clients Google your name because they want to know more about you. Meet their need and give them the information they desire. Just control what information is out there.
Having a strong LinkedIn profile allows you the opportunity to get more information in front of your target market. LinkedIn will allow you to post your educational background, client recommendations and any type of awards or honors you might have received. A LinkedIn page presents more information than a paragraph-long biography from your company site and it is less industry-specific than a ProZ.com profile, which uses abbreviations and terminology, such as ”WWA” or “Kudoz,” which can occasionally be confusing to clients from outside the language services industry.
The biggest benefit to LinkedIn is that it’s primarily a computerized version of the Good Ole Boy Network. A Southern US term for an international phenomenon, the Good Ole Boy Network is social networking at its best and most efficient—the simple rule of doing business with those you know before you do business with a stranger. People were loyal to their friends and family first long before Al Gore did or didn’t invent the internet. Before the web, however, you had to keep in your head who knew whom that did what. Now, thanks to LinkedIn, it’s all on a computer. Need a lawyer in the Greater Atlanta area? Well, you know Amy who knows Jason who’s Georgia Bar certified. The flip side of this is that Jason may need legal translation, so with the click of a button, LinkedIn will tell him that he knows Amy who knows you and that you’re a legal translator. The more contacts you have on your account, the better, as the more individuals the site is able to link you to. But beware adding too many connections, or you’ll break rule number six.
Rule number six: Only link to people you actually know. There are scammers on LinkedIn who only want access to your information so they can junk email you. Because here’s the thing, see: when you add someone as a contact on LinkedIn, he gets access to your email address, which is generally not viewable to someone unless he’s a contact. Also, email address privacy protection aside, when you add someone as a contact you are publically saying, “Yes, I know this person.” To share some more of my mother’s advice, birds of a feather flock together. You are who you run with. You’re known by the company you keep. Feel free to insert your own appropriate adage here. Do you want to run the risk that you take when you link yourself online to a complete and utter stranger?
That being said, there are different groups on LinkedIn, such as “TopLinked (Open Networkers),” and “MyLink500 (Open Networkers),” which promise that all members will accept any invitation to link profiles from anyone, no questions asked. Obviously, the thousands of members of these groups would disagree with me. But another piece of advice my momma gave me was that quality beats quantity any day of the week. It’s better to have a solidified network of those you know than a weaker network of those you don’t.
Rule number seven would then be obvious, I would think: Don’t click to add me on Facebook or LinkedIn just because you read this article.