MARIA OGNEVA'S BLOG
I have worked for all kinds of companies, large and small, B2B and B2C, some of which have legal departments and some of which don’t. Trust me, the implications of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person in the wrong public (or private) forum isn’t lost on me. I’ve written social media policies, and I understand fully how a well-crafted social media policy isn’t really about social media, but rather all communications. I get the disclaimer of “These opinions are my own and don’t represent my employer”, and trust me, nothing in this post represents anyone or anyone I’ve worked for / with.
But I’ve noticed some unfortunate side effects. I find myself overthinking a lot of things I communicate, and not only does this manifest itself in digital formats, but I’ve also started to be much more measured in my offline communications as well. Which is good and bad in and of itself. I’m glad that I’ve become much more conscientious and I’m really getting a kick out of my own discipline and self-control. Overall, I think I’m a more astute businessperson, because being level-headed and censoring everything ultimately makes me better at navigating external and internal politics. But I can’t help but feel that there’s a tiny part of me that’s dying. The idealistic part that always had to do the right thing and speak my mind, regardless of consequences. I also can’t help speculating that it also may be youth’s cockiness being replaced by maturity.
What I do know is that every tweet that I tweet, every post that I write, every interview I give, every video I create / appear in weighs on my shoulders. And then the analysis in my head comes… Did I say too much? Did I say too little? Was I idiotic? Was my makeup smeared? Was my hair looking crazy? Do I have a drink in my hand? Who will see it? Who will read it? Who will judge me? And will they judge the brand I’m representing? Will I get fired? Will I lose health insurance because of that, and will my husband and unborn children lose it too, all because of one tweet?
Anything can be misinterpreted; I know firsthand how thin the line is between what you mean and how it gets interpreted. The situation is further exacerbated by lack of audiovisual feedback (funny enough, I’m actually a much better written communicator than spoken). And so I run through a mental list (and sometimes a physical one) of any person or organization who may or may not interpret what I said in another way. And so it starts.. Competitors, customers, partners, future customers, future partners. Am I talking to a competitor, who is a competitor now, but will be a partner later? Can’t give away too much info or anything really cool, but can’t give away too little, because no one will care. Can’t take a humorous tone, because people may think I’m mocking them. Have to be careful comparing features to competitors, for fear of coming across as slamming the competition. I’m exhausted just thinking about this.
This is sort of obvious and a confluence of several things. There are the obvious things like physical privacy (and being very picky about using Foursquare and accepting connections there). There are less obvious things like realization that no DM is private, fueled by this blogpost by Mike Champion on the OneForty blog, and that Google reads your emails (I have no proof of this, just a hunch). Besides, any email or tweet can be forwarded, screenshot and shared. Then there’s the privacy of others — even if I feel OK giving up my own, it doesn’t mean that others feel the same. Whereas before I’d say where I am and with whom, and even upload a photo, now I treasure my in-person connections and feel like I’m selling people out when I talk about them. Personal anecdote: we had a new niece over the holidays, and my first instinct was to share her photos on Twitter, because she’s so darn cute! But I have enough experience in social media to be sensitive to others’ needs. I didn’t even ask if the parents minded if I tweeted the photo — I chose not to, because it’s not my place. Besides, photos of kids have a whole other dimension, because you are establishing their digital footprint without their knowledge or go-ahead. Needless to say, I’m keeping my future kids out of anything public — and definitely no names.
Professionalism and oversharing
Gosh forbid, someone may capture a photo of me with a drink at a party. Will that make me forever unemployable? Gross exaggeration, I know, but.. Speaking of unemployable: how are you conveying your own brand? Are you too whiny? Too noisy? Several years ago, I tweeted through a bad breakup, and even though my tweets were veiled (not that well), it didn’t take a genius to read between the lines. I’ve also seen many people overshare time and time again, and although I know it’s each person’s prerogative to use their Twitter channel as they see fit, and I don’t *have* to follow them, I look at my tweet stream from the outside more and more. I ask myself “would others enjoy this?”, and this is actually a good thing and symptomatic of a growing empathy towards others.
Why do we overshare? Sometimes, it’s for a very selfish reason of making ourselves feel better. Another personal example… Not too long ago, when I first moved to San Francisco, I used to whine and whine and whine how much I hate the weather and the public transport and how I miss back East, and blah blah blah. I was still coming into my life here, which I now can’t imagine anywhere else, but I felt emotional and torn up, and without an outlet. Then I decided that I wasn’t showing myself in the best light, because I’m not nearly as whiny as I came across. It’s just everytime I’d feel like whining, I’d reach for Twitter and not the phone — just like every time I have a question or want to crowdsource something — I don’t pick up the phone, I tweet instead. Therefore, I was overstating the true “percentage of whiny to normal”. I swore off whining, except for I still break my own rule from time to time — mostly when it’s my last attempt to get service out of a company (bad, I know.. another honest post coming about the “Cult of Entitlement” soon). I also broke this rule when I was overwhelmed by wedding preparations. Bad Maria.
It’s not as special if you share it. Or is it?
I’m all about humanizing yourself and your brand — I feel so strongly about it that I wrote a blogpost today about this. But I can’t help feeling that oversharing of very personal stuff just makes it feel less special. I think this last part is just me though — I think I vastly exaggerate this in my own mind. However, it does stem from another real desire that many of my industry friends share — a desire for substance, a search for signal in a growing ocean of noise. It’s like being at small intimate events and talking about things that matter vs. being at a big-ass event because it’s “the place to be”. I know I’m not alone in this, as I watch the movement towards smaller invite-only events develop at ever-growing conferences like SXSW. Social media is heading into maturity, which is the reality of any business cycle. This, believe me, is great news for social media and its adoption — this is what we have been fighting for all along. But it does come with that loss of community; I know, what a snobby thing to say! Personal example: I didn’t want @gregarious to tweet that we were engaged until we told our parents and until some time passed. It’s sort of an “emotional embargo” — I want personal stuff to myself for a while, and then it’s OK to share.
Apart from just getting some feelings out on paper after not saying them for a long time, hopefully this post will help people connect with themselves a little more. You don’t have to drop the “F bomb” every sentence or be controversial, but you also don’t have to be bland. Don’t be an idiot, but don’t overthink things either. Someone tweeted the other day and it really stuck in my mind, because my best blogposts occurred this way: “Blog drunk, edit sober.” I’m not drunk now, by the way.
To be clear: these thoughts are my own and don’t represent anyone or anything I’m associated with or will ever associate with
Photo credit: Paul Watson