The Blurring Line Between Personal And Professional Activities

from the is-that-a-presidential-endorsement dept

We've talked for years about the blurring of the "work-life" balance thanks to our always connected world. These days, it's not uncommon for people to do some "life" aspects at work (online shopping, banking, etc.) while also doing plenty of "work" things while at home (checking email, creating presentations, etc.). While there are still occasional stories (almost always put forth by companies selling filters) about the "evils" of workers doing personal things on work time, enough studies have shown that people more than make up for such uses by working from home or being more productive when they actually work.

But there are other issues beyond just the productivity question when professional and personal "selves" begin to blend. I've definitely noticed this on things like Twitter, where some people use their Twitter accounts for personal things, others for work things -- and many for both. Some companies have rules about that kind of thing, though it leads to awkward declarations, such as telling employees they can only use their Twitter accounts for work related issues. But that takes away much of the power of Twitter, which gives people -- even in work settings -- a chance to better connect with others.

And, one of these days, you just know there's going to be some sort of legal fight over who actually "owns" a Twitter account: the employee who uses it... or the employer. In cases where an employee builds up a huge following, and tweets mostly about work, sooner or later some company will claim to own that profile (especially if the employee tries to leave).

But, this blurring of work and life boundaries can create other issues as well. Andrew F alerts us to a story which he calls (and I agree) a "little inane," concerning the fact that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is upsetting some because he tweeted about his local bike shop. In this case, Gibbs did a "#FF" tweet, which is a pretty common usage of Twitter, where, on Friday's you do a "Friday Follow" (#FF) tweet that highlights someone else on Twitter that your own followers might be interested in following. It's sort of a neighborly use of Twitter. So Gibbs did exactly what millions of people on Twitter do and gave a shout out to his local bike store:
#FF @CraigatFEMA so you know the latest @RevCycles a great bike store & special thanks to Ken and others there for helping me with my bike
Perfectly normal, and another example of Twitter being used to make famous people more human, right? Well, except in the politicized world of Washington D.C., where suddenly there's concern that what if this is an "official White House endorsement" and an "abuse of power."

And suddenly we're back to the whole blurry border of work and life. The tweet was quite clearly a personal tweet, but with the blurring borders and questions about whether or not any random statement a person makes is now in "an official capacity" or just as a personal statement. The nice thing about Twitter is that it's quite conversational, so people say things as if they're just talking to friends they ran into on the street. But the difference is that it's also broadcast and recorded for everyone.

I think it's pretty ridiculous to worry too much about the White House press secretary expressing his happiness with the local bike shop that fixed his bike, but it might be a precursor to other issues that are definitely going to come up with services like Twitter as people begin to recognize the new and changing boundaries between their personal lives and their work lives.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Richard (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 4:16am

    Seems pretty clear-cut in this case...

    The account name is "PressSec" and the first 5 words in the account bio are "An official WH twitter account" - and it uses a picture of the WH press room as its backdrop. This is a self-identified official administration communications method, and probably should not be used for casual 'neighborly' posts. This is clearly not Robert Gibbs' personal account - in other words, it's the position speaking, not the man. It's not like it would be hard or complicated for him to have a separate and personal account for personal opinions...

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 5:17am

    As much as I usually agree with you Mike, I don't agree with you here.

    If the tweet came from @Robert Gibbs I wouldn't have a problem but tweets coming from an Official WH account should remain focused on 'work only' This account is not as much about connecting with people it is for communicating the business of government.

     

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  3.  
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    Michial Thompson, May 14th, 2010 @ 5:49am

    WOW again little mikee misleads for his benefit

    little mikee m, why did you intentionally leave out that the account was PressSec? And that it was "the official" account? Is it because it sounded better for your agenda?

    Companies and entities that have their employees setup twitter accounts for their benefit ARE the owners of the accounts. If an employee leaves the company, and they take the account credentials with them then it is no different that taking the computer off their desk as well. IF the account was setup for business purposes I could care less if they used it to tweet about their babies diaper rash to make them seem human, the purpose of the account was for business purposes and to further the business. If seeming human to their followers will benefit the company then that part of the job.

    You talk about a blurred line, there is no blurred line. Right in my company manual it states that no employee will work on company projects outside of assigned hours unless SPECIFICALLY requested and compensated for such work.

    I REQUIRE this of my employees because of my own personal past experience. When I work on work related projects during my off time I blur the line between home and work. I then never level work and get the rest and relaxation that I need. I don't need my employees thinking about or doing work from home. I want them enjoying their families and their hobbies and anything else they want. I pay them to work during work hours not to work when they are home.

    At the same time, when they setup on line accounts for work, or when the represent my company I expect it done in a manner that represents MY VIEWS and MY OPINIONS and MY OUTLOOKS for MY COMPANY. If I request these accounts setup for MY COMPANY then these accounts are MY RESOURCES not the employees.

     

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  4.  
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    JustMe (profile), May 14th, 2010 @ 5:57am

    IMNSHO he shouldn't have done it from that account

    ... unless the bike shop helped out with White House bicycles, of course.

    That being said, I stop far short of the lunatics and their complaints of "official White House endorsement" and an "abuse of power."

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 6:40am

    High-profile officials are typically seen as being in their positions at all hours of the day. The president does not clock-out at 6:00 on Friday and back in on Monday morning.

    So when Robert Gibbs does something in the public area (under the official account named PressSec) you're damn right people are going to think it is official.

    Where exactly is the point of contention here?

     

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    GUY@MYTOWN, May 14th, 2010 @ 7:39am

    Would he make that announcement at.....

    Would Mr. Gibbs make an announcement about his bike store at an official White House press conference? I think not.

    IMHO a communication medium should be treated the same regardless if it is a 30 minute press conference, a "Tweet", streaming media on the internet, or a TV/radio broadcast.

    This seems very simple to comprehend when the person making the announcement, (whatever the mode of communication is being used)is an official White House spokesperson.

    If nothing else it seems very unprofessional and lacks good judgment. How hard is it to use your personal social networking account for PERSONAL use??

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 8:36am

    mike, you missed it entirely on this one. today its a bike shop, tomorrow its a phone company, the day after its supporting a great event in his home town that happens to be run by arabs instead of jews, and this never stops. if he wants to do things on his personal account, that might be different, but using an official account? sorry, it is a clear fail. how come you so often end up on the wrong (stupid) side of these sorts of things?

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2010 @ 1:36pm

    It's as if mike didn't visit the tweet he posted about at all. One glance and you can tell this account is used officially. Case closed.

    parrot all the posters above.

     

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  9.  
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    Nathanael Boehm, May 15th, 2010 @ 4:55pm

    Yes, and no

    I understand and to an extent agree with the above commenters (except their ad hominem attacks against the OP) but also disagree on some points.

    Social media is not like other broadcast channels, such as the mentioned press conference. The "social" part might allude to that. Platforms such as Twitter are and should be used in a different manner to media releases and RSS feeds. It's about personal 2-way communication, collaborative brand-building. You can't do this without a personal voice.

    Whilst I don't agree with what Robert Gibbs did (he should have known better) people who like Michial Thompson wish to control their employees and force them to express their employers own opinions and views are missing the point. It's hard for employees to build genuine, open relationships and have frank discussions with people outside the organisation when they've been coerced into being mere puppets.

    As a social media strategist, channel developer and online community manager I know the importance of allowing individuals to express themselves and behave naturally as long as there are clear boundaries. Endorsing third-party products is generally a no-no, and that's pretty easy to recognise and steer clear from.

    I suggest those readers here who aren't familiar with social media pick up a publication like the Cluetrain Manifesto and become informed.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2010 @ 2:53pm

    Re:

    Umm... this is hyperbolic, to be kind.

    That said, I think the crux of the matter has already been repeatedly covered. If it had been @RGates, there would have been no problem. It would have been clear that he was just talking about himself. Posting it as @PressSec is where he went awry.

    For what it's worth, I doubt it was intentional. Considering how hyper-politicized D.C. is in the natural course of events, I can understand the consternation here.

     

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  11.  
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    Personal Finance Bible, Jun 29th, 2010 @ 10:56am

    Companies and entities that soul their employees falsehood chirp accounts for their aid ARE the owners of the accounts. If an employee leaves the complement, and they demand the reason credentials with them then it is no several that taking the computer off their desk as compartment. IF the story was setup for business purposes I could mind lower if they misused it to tweet some their babies napkin rash to variety them seem manlike, the purport of the ground was for byplay purposes and to promote the commerce. If seeming humanlike to their followers leave benefit the fellowshipone of these days, you fair see there's deed to be few form of ineligible defend over who actually "owns" a Cheep record: the employee who uses it... or the employer. In cases where an employee builds up a immense people, and tweets mostly some learning, sooner or afterward whatever assort instrument exact to own that salience .............. polo

     

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  12.  
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    Personal Finance Bible, Jun 29th, 2010 @ 11:02am

    I got it because I go to civilise and I tally a lot of friends who SMS/text or IM me all the case and the qwerty keyboard is a lot easier for writing than the 123 keypads cellphones have. I got this instead of a sidekick because the blackberry is much "open". I can communicate any games or apps I wishing onto there if I can feat them and not pay a centime for those games.If an employee leaves the circle, and they sicken the relationship credentials with them then it is no various that action the computer off their desk as easily. IF the relationship was falsification for commerce purposes I could protection fewer if they utilized it to sound around their babies napkin series to alter them seem hominid, the determine of the invoice was for mercantilism purposes and to promote the performing. If seeming earth born to their mass gift benefit the affiliate then that endeavor of the job. .............. yogesh Personal Finance Bible

     

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