Voices Carry - How Personal Should Your Business Get?

Thanks to our always-connected North American business environment, our personal lives often include business – but how often should your business get personal?

While the lines can get blurred on social media, it’s up to you to ensure you know where your own line in the sand is drawn. And why.

The question that many wrestle with – from the C-suite on down – is “how much personal should appear in our business’ social media feeds?”

Do a quick search on the Internet and you’ll see that there’s no hard-and-fast rule. Some advocate a 100 per cent integration of business and personal; others suggest a comprehensive schism between work and play; while others see a need for an integration of both.

My view? It’s pretty much defined by that noted philosopher Popeye the Sailor Man, who coined the phrase, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam…” I don’t change my beliefs for the company I work.

But I do self-censor.

Jay at work is the same as Jay at home. However, Jay at home has far different responsibilities than Jay at work does – and that’s reflected in how I approach content.

My political and social beliefs don’t have a place in a corporate setting. Nor should they. A business, for the most part, should remain agnostic. If, as a whole, the company (or its owner) chooses to publicly support a cause or item, then that’s fine. But too often employees tasked with supporting social media efforts can fall into the trap of hijacking the brand for their own purposes.

It can be overt or it can be subtle. Either way, it can be damaging. A personal opinion expressed on-line on a corporate page becomes part of your corporate history. So before you post that comment, ask yourself two questions:

  • Is this my opinion or the official corporate stance? And
  • Will I make anyone uncomfortable with this post?

Top-down discomfort is the norm; bottom-up shouldn’t be. I’ve worked for and with companies with whom I had fundamental differences, politically and socially, with the owners. Yet, in our business communications, we maintained a balance and neutrality. Personal beliefs did not intrude on business, and we professed a respectful appreciation of all views and differences.

And I've never entertained the thought of posting comments or sharing links that would run counter to the owners’ beliefs – at least on the corporate entities I managed.

There’s a time and a place for everything – and your corporate Twitter feed is not likely the best venue for your social commentary and political posturing.

And that’s where the second question, “Will I make anyone uncomfortable…?” comes in. As a matter of respect, I try not to post anything corporately that will force someone to defend a stance that they don’t believe in. My views and opinions on many matters are pretty easy to discern if you read my personal Twitter feed or anything I’ve written on a personal blog.

But to use a corporate forum to indulge in personal propaganda? That’s not just irresponsible – it’s insensitive.

The strongest companies are the ones that encourage a diversity of opinion, backgrounds, and experience. A well-rounded foundation is always stronger – and, with that, comes different perspectives and views. To profess or value one over the other can create internal strife.

I’ve referenced the Chick-fil-A example frequently. As you know, the owner publicly expressed his personal disapproval of gay marriage. As a person, that’s his right. But what a public proclamation of this nature does is institutionalize an opinion – and it puts employees within his organization who don’t agree with that sentiment in a difficult position.

Should we assume that all employees share the “official corporate philosophy?” I can say from personal experience, no. But I can also share from personal experience that it’s tough to be proud of working in a place whose values you don’t agree with.

My experience leads me to suggest that, corporately, avoiding these situations at all costs is in everyone’s best interests.

That doesn't mean your corporate feed needs to be all sales-focused or brand-specific. There's room for personality, individuality, and fun -- in fact, there should be a mandate that you should incorporate some humanity into your corporate communications. But when that personality extends to advocacy, you start running into challenges.

Ideally, your corporate voice is independent of any one person. You are representing the brand and, in many ways, you’re playing a role. Remember, you may be representing the voice of your company, but you are not its voice.

It’s a fine line, but one that you must draw.

Questions Answered

How much personal content should I put on my corporate feed?

What should my corporate voice be?

Is it OK to post personal stuff on a corporate feed?

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