How Much Information is TMI for your Brand or Professional Reputation?

I was approached by a friend with an idea. It went along the lines of “What if we get a group together to promote this cause ….” and from that point on my imagination soared with what-ifs and can-we’s.

And I wondered about the can of worms we might be opening.

Those of you in Facebook know from experience that when someone who is your “friend” joins a cause, everyone gets a notice about it. After awhile, we begin to get a sense of what our friends are interested in, besides work. We can gauge how well matched we are, how different we might be from each other and see sides of friends we never knew about.

Also, in Facebook, we get alerts whenever someone signs up to be a fan of someone or something. We pick who is the “Most Beautiful”, “Who is Funniest”, and rate everything from smiles to who we’d like to marry. Some of it’s fun and games. Some of it is honest insight, such as when a friend backs a certain politician and it’s announced to everyone on their friends list.

When you do business with peers or are friends with CEO’s and company owners who have Facebook pages and profiles, is there a point where you think to yourself, “I didn’t need to know that” when they post something they’ve joined? If someone’s “status” is, “I’m naked in bed with my laptop”, is this TMI (Too Much Information)?

I remember how freeing it was when Threadwatch ran a long thread a few years back about SEO’s who work from home. It was a coming out party of men and a few women who admitted to working naked or in their PJ’s, odd hours and in varying environments, from home to Starbucks to heck, likely a few bars.

Is Social Networking Coming at a Price?

The social media networking phase of the Internet experience has allowed us to meet and talk to each other. It also lets us share bits and pieces of ourselves as if we were eating lunch at the same table at school and sitting with our group, or attending a company picnic and throwing horse shoes with fellow employees.

In other words, we’re starting to hang out together, as well as also doing business with each other. We’re moving beyond a professional networking, spell checked, politically correct version of ourselves and into a “This is the real me” version, where we’re more willing to share our interests and life events outside of work.

Instead of rows and rows of employment “cube farms” where you pop up over the wall to share potato chips with your neighbor and gossip about the manager, there’s now IM and Twitter. It’s easy to type that spontaneous thought begging to be leaked out and in seconds, it’s out there and going all over the place to who knows who?

Does this matter?

If a group of your industry peers banded together to support a cause you don’t believe in, would you not do business with them?

If a group of your industry peers supported a political view or candidate, set up a web site and promoted themselves as supporters, and you strongly disagree with that view or candidate, would you feel differently about them? Enough to not associate with them? Work with them? Refer work to them?

In some ways, this is like joining a forums where you feel you fit. You like how you’re treated there and the people have similar beliefs or attitudes as you do. I’m reminded of blog writing, when we had asked if it’s proper to write about our personal lives in our business or professional blogs.

Whenever we remove our mask and people see the real us, there’s a risk. How much of yourself are you willing to reveal? Is it important to doing business online?

What do you think? Does someone’s choices in their personal life alter your opinion of their business services?

Would you have the courage to stand up and defend a cause you believe in, and bring attention to it in your web site or blog if you could, even though it has nothing to do with your business, products or services?

Added: Discussion Could What You Stand Up For Detract From Your Reputation?

6 thoughts on “How Much Information is TMI for your Brand or Professional Reputation?”

  1. Very good questions, Kim, and I think the answers will be different for different people. Taking politics or causes as an example, some people are more naturally tolerant of other viewpoints than others. Those people will be more likely to do business with people who have expressed viewpoints vastly different than their own, while less tolerant people will probably not.

    Personally, I like the way things are going right now, and I like getting to know more about the real people I interact with. That said, I do have boundaries. Someone in the last couple of months twitted about some “private” activity they were engaged in at that moment with their partner, and yes, that was definitely TMI for me. I removed that person from my friend list.

    But most of the personal stuff I encounter is fine and doesn’t bother me at all. Still, there are millions of social media newbies out there that might not feel the same way. It is a risk, but at the moment, I think it’s one worth taking. Just keep the “private” stuff private, please.

  2. Yes. The “private” stuff can be hard to take sometimes, but I wondered if it was just me and my tendency to keep private things, well…private.

    Like when my husband, Eric, joined Facebook, we had some interesting (putting it kindly) discussions about what he could say or “do” to me. He’s too scared to do anything now, for fear I won’t consider it professional.

    I’m so mean. :)

  3. ‘Does someone’s choices in their personal life alter your opinion of their business services?’
    I always see a cloud around the silver lining. :)

    Maybe. If I had to interact with them personally then I have to like and respect them personally. If I only have to deal with a partner or employee then personal differences may not matter – only whether the organisation are best for the job.

    Would you have the courage to stand up and defend a cause you believe in,’
    Yes. If you won’t you don’t. Of course that is rather easily said in Canada. I might well be more circumspect elsewhere in the world.

    ‘and bring attention to it in your web site or blog if you could, even though it has nothing to do with your business, products or services?’
    A personal stand should be made via a personal site, a business stand by that business site. Unless your business site is founded on stated personal beliefs. Then they can co-mingle.

    While I think reinstating the pillory would be a useful social punishment addition to community service it remains an individual punishment.

    I can happily work with someone I would never associate with privately – and vice versa. We are each one person with many attributes/personas.

    TMI is relative to the society, the family, the person, and current emotional state. Unfortunately, the epidemic of Jerry Springer type ‘shows’ have lowered the North American threshold to barely noticeable.

    However, I should like to assure your husband that uploading pics of you in your Christmas stocking would be quite acceptable. ;)

  4. What a thought-provoking post!

    I’m going to take this to the extreme for a minute. Suppose that everyone had access to all information about everyone. Wouldn’t that force us to be more tolerant? After all, we all have skeletons in the closet – something that someone else will find odd or disagree with. Yet to survive you have to interact with others.

    Okay, backing out to reality, I’m not sure I’m ready to argue that privacy is silly. But I’m not entirely sure why not. People freak out about the amount of content people put up on Facebook, but perhaps what this is doing is helping us loosen up as a culture, especially in the work place. If my employer sees party photos of me on Facebook, will that color their impression of me as an employee? Maybe, maybe not. Should it? I would argue not, if it doesn’t impact my ability to do my job. Perhaps sharing more information allows us to treat each other more like humans and less like coworkers.

  5. Kimberly wrote:

    “If I thought along those lines, I’d never grow as a person. Always fearing showing the real me..who i am, what I believe in, the path that speaks for ME.”

    So true. However, many people have masks for their masks :) (I’m old enough to have had a few hundred. heh.)

    In any case, what I’m referring to in my statement concerns business and reputation management.

    For example, the other day my husband came home and mentioned someone in management showed a different, less favorable side that day. It shocked some people and caused some to question things like respect for the manager.

    Each of has a different work style and after awhile people develop expectations of us. In business and professional dealings online, the line between what is private or personal and what is just “being me for all to see” is what I’m exploring.

    It could well be that the more we know about someone, or a company, the better informed we are to make choices.

    I enjoy the feedback from everyone! Thank you :)

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