Facebook has been compared to a lot of things, but I think the most apt analogy is that Facebook is like a pool party. Why is that true, and why is it important for you from a personal branding standpoint? Here are three reasons:
1. Most of us are there to have fun. When you go to a pool party, the main objective is to relax, socialize, and–most of all–have fun. It’s the same on Facebook. People may visit Facebook for a lot of different reasons, but most of us go there for a diversion. It’s play, not work. With that in mind, consider whether your job is related to the “play” aspects of people’s lives. If not, it may be very difficult to get them interested in your message for very long. Don’t show up to the pool party in a suit and tie and try to lure people to dry land when they’d rather be in the water, having a good time.
2. You’ll be interacting with a pretty diverse group of people. When you’re at a pool party, you can never be quite sure who’ll be in the water with you. It could be friends, family, co-workers, neighbors–probably people you’ve never met before, too. Likewise on Facebook. It’s likely that all your worlds will collide, and that all those different audiences are going to want different things from you. This goes well beyond being careful what you share: if you want to start conversations on Facebook, you’ll likely need change your message for different audiences. (Facebook’s Groups feature may offer and end-around to this, but how many people do you know who use Facebook’s Groups feature?) And that approach can be disastrous for your personal brand, given that one of the keys to building a great brand is a consistent, differentiated message. If you try to resist providing each distinct audience with they want from you, you’ll have a hard time staying afloat.
3. Most people expose more of themselves than they would or should at work. The dress code at a pool party is about is casual as it gets, right down to bikinis and (god forbid) Speedos. The same holds true on Facebook. Party photos, profanity and NSFW videos are common. That’s great if you use Facebook as a time killer, but not so great if you’re trying to be perceived as a professional. Think you can control your message? Well, how easy is to control what someone else chooses to wear to a pool party you attend? When you use Facebook as a professional branding tool, you’re doing so at the mercy of your connections. If they decide to post information, photos or videos unrelated to your professional life on your wall, the conversation will change. Sure, you can delete such posts or block users from posting on your wall, but it’s going to be an ongoing battle. Instead of using your time productively, you’ll spend a lot of time swimming against the current.
It’s certain that there are examples out there that would prove me wrong. But those examples are the exception–the very rare exception, in fact. If you think Facebook is the right tool to use to build your personal brand, no one’s going to stop you. For most us, though, it’s worth remembering that it’s OK to use Facebook as a purely “social” networking tool and choose other options when it comes to professional networking. Otherwise, you’ll likely end up with a personal branding strategy that’s all wet.