Monday, February 17, 2014

Your lengthened shadow is online

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that an "institution is the lengthened shadow of a man." Biographers sometimes use the phrase to describe titans of 20th century industry -- George Eastman, Henry Ford, etc. -- whose personal imprint lived on in their companies after they passed.

Today, viewed through a PR lens, I view your personal brand online as your lengthened shadow. Like a shadow, it follows you and says things about you that you don't verbalize. This is especially true when you create a Facebook or Twitter account -- and do nothing with it.

Twice this week, I've looked up executives' pages on Facebook to try to learn more about them. Yes, I know -- I should be finding them on LinkedIn, where business connections override social contacts. But Facebook garners the most traffic of social media sites. And people often share opinions and stories on Facebook that offer some insights on their interests. Plus, I was curious to see how these women, both recognizable in our business community, put forth their presence on Facebook.

Here's what I discovered (with user names altered):

  • Stella, who recently resigned from a public executive position, has a Facebook page consisting of her name, head shot, and the town in which she lives. Nothing else. No mention of the organization she led, achievements, nothing. 
  • Olivia, who leads a marketing function for a commercial venture, has a slightly richer Facebook page: about 15 images from an online game, and a head shot from 2012, when she joined.

I get it. Not everyone updates their Facebook pages with frequency. It can be an inconvenience, a time-waster, and people have legitimate concerns about one's personal privacy on the site.

But here's the thing: these women both created these pages. And, like an unfinished symphony, the pages appear abandoned. As if the executives both contracted a sudden case of Severe Shyness.

Stella and Olivia's pages aren't hidden. They're just neglected. And their unfinished presence in our Era of Social Media space leaves a gap. Visitors will come away with some doubt about their personal brands. Are these executives absent-minded? Busy? Shy? Is Olivia game-obsessed? Is Stella hiding something? Has she entered a witness protection program?

Fact is, you don't need a Facebook page. It's not mandatory. For some, it's a nuisance.

But taking a half-hearted step into this space and walking away doesn't do much to strengthen your online personal brand. More specifically: it tells visitors that you don't "get" social media, and that's not a message any executive really wants to send.