Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Will Our Professional and Personal Online Identities Merge?



Many feel that lingering fear that someday their boss is going to somehow get access to their privacy-protected Facebook wall, and all the associated content that may or may not be critical of company leadership. Currently, privacy mechanisms are in place that can prevent this from happening. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ all have privacy settings that limit what non-connections can see; and forums such as Reddit, 4chan and others have the benefit of complete anonymity. But what if all of your personal online activity was bundled together with your professional identities managed through email, Linkedin, and other professional online activity spots? Some fear this may soon be happening.

The silent battle being fought in enterprise software is pitting Google against Microsoft. Google Apps for Business, once a freemium tool, is the fastest growing email, documents, and cloud storage enterprise software suites in the world. Two out of every three new enterprise software companies are choosing Google Apps for Business instead of Microsoft Outlook and Office[1]. In fact, according to both Forrester Research and Gartner, Google is expected to control 50% of the enterprise email market in 5 years![2] So with the compatibility and ubiquity of Google products continuing to proliferate, the question becomes – what does this mean for Google products users?

Below is a quick snapshot of what the Google Apps for Business market looks like:


Two Identities Collide

One concern with the growth of Google Apps for Business is that Google will be able to track both your personal and professional identities, and merge them into a single online persona. This has already been done to a small extent with Google+, where if you have both a personal and professional account Google will push recommended people to circle from both your personal and professional contacts. Further evidence of this change happens when you sign up as a new user with the Google Signup tool, which will give you the option to choose your personal or professional account to sign up for a service. But Google is not the only company to be doing this. Facebook is working diligently to make your FB profile the only one you need online; and Linkedin started this shift with their groups, where individuals mix professional and personal interests.

Managing the Change

So there’s this sea change coming that is being driven by large forces. One solution is to stop providing companies with data inputs – something that is nearly impossible at this point. Another potential solution is a dedicated web service to help manage your various online personas – but this hasn’t quite achieved this. So it is up to you to figure out how you are going to manage, and benefit from, this major change. With that context in mind, the following is what you can do to better manage this movement toward combining your online identities:

  • Determine and build your brand – Very few internet users think about their online brand. Most use their social and professional outlets in an unstructured, directionless fashion. However, there are many people who use their various profiles to express themselves personally, and develop their credibility and brand. One great thinker in this area is Dan Schawbel[3], who has used very effective methods online to brand himself as one of the foremost experts in online personal branding
  • Create your online “10 Commandments” – If our personal and professional online identities are indeed moving closer together, it is important that we have rules of engagement. Users should begin to establish their own guidelines by which they will manage their online brand and craft an identity that serves a productive purpose. These could include avoiding political commentary, eliminating cursing, and abstaining from negative comments; but these rules also include positive actions like expressing gratitude, giving praise to people, and sharing interesting information. 
  • Use personal analytics – In my previous post about knowing and managing your social graph, I provided several tools you can use to see how people find and search you online[4]. As you dive into the data, you’ll notice that people that look you up on Linkedin for professional purposes will also visit your Twitter feed, and try to access your Facebook wall. Furthermore, with tools like Klout you’ll be able to find out if your activity is truly building the brand you intend.



[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/technology/google-apps-moving-onto-microsofts-business-turf.html?_r=0
[2] http://www.shorewebtech.com/blog/google-apps-gaining-market-share/
[3] http://danschawbel.com/
[4] http://dauofu.blogspot.com/2013/01/understanding-your-social-graph.html