Social Media for Professionals, Revised July 2011

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality. –Dante

Social media use is habit forming. (Image by carrotcreative on Flickr.)

Inspired by the recent HackLibSchool post on the work/life balance on Twitter, I decided I had participated in the library Twitter community for long enough to revise my earlier n00bish self-policing social media policies. I’ve been following librarians on Twitter for almost 10 months now, and interacting with these colleagues through this service has been an integral part of my education.

The question that spurred the HLS post was, how do LIS students balance the personal with the professional on Twitter? Do people have a public, professional account in addition to a private, personal one? Who uses what social networks for which community?

My personal approach to this question is inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Although I read this book over four years ago, the anecdote about the insights one gleans by glancing at a student’s dorm room was very powerful. I must refer to the post over at Hipstercrite as I don’t have the book right in front of me, but the gist is that your living space is just as important of an indicator into your character as a CV.

This theory stems from Sam Gosling’s research on psychology. For those who don’t want to click through the link, his argument is that a living space contains identity claims (who we think we are), behavioral residue (how we show it), and regulators for thoughts and feelings (how we act to control our environment).

These psychology findings may not hold up to the test of time, but I was swayed enough by the argument to apply it to my choices for my online life. By blending the personal with the professional, I can allow my colleagues in my online network to place me in a subcultural context. I can selectively control what I share as clues to my imagined audience so they may know what kind of ally I might be.

In fact, it was a piece of social information that led me to become more active on Twitter to begin with. I have a slight podcast addiction, and I happened to stumble upon another library student in an online forum for one of the podcasts that feed my habit. Starting to follow her on Twitter inspired me to actively find more library students there, and my LIS student community on Twitter alluvasudden was born.

But breaking down the social barriers isn’t where the benefits end. Regardless of how separate I keep my professional life from my personal life, certain values cannot be compromised whenever I must be judged by my colleagues (as in, during a competitive job search). My personal beliefs regarding these values sometimes come out online, and if that affects a company or organization’s hiring decision, then I would not be a good fit there anyway.

This is where the Dante quote comes in. It’s too naive to say, “I am what I am so I tweet what I tweet,” but if Twitter is at all going to be my friend, then it is going to connect me with people who share my beliefs–and the personal and the professional are interlocked here. It is especially important as our nation finds itself in a political quagmire that’s likely to last months if not years.

So what would it look like if I took my policies from October and modified them with what I’ve learned over these past 10 months? This time, less is more:

  1. Be yourself, but be professional.
  2. Engage in conversations with your colleagues.
  3. Find important stories and share them.
  4. Check into the conversation daily, even if you don’t tweet.
  5. Be on during important news events.

Is anyone put off by personal details shared on Twitter? Are there strategies for following people whose personal tweets aren’t preferred but whose professional stories are invaluable?

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