As the sister of Facebook’s founder, I’ve seen people over the years delight in finding bits of my life that have surfaced online and giving them undue attention. Some bachelorette party photos here, a video of me singing there—the attention is understandable. But it’s exhausting to put on an act—to be somebody in one situation and somebody else in another. So a long time ago, I decided to stop being afraid to share.
This philosophy was put to the test when I had my son Asher two years ago. Even though I promised myself that when he was born, I wouldn’t become “that mom” on Facebook, I fell hard off the wagon. First yawn? Adorbs. Facebook it. First hiccups? Obviously all my friends want to see that. Snoozing in a park? OMG, soooo cute! Who wouldn’t want to see baby photos 50 times a day?
I soon found out. I had some pretty honest co-workers, and one day one of them decided to give it to me straight. “Randi,” she said, “Asher is adorable, but you can’t keep posting a zillion baby photos. You have a professional reputation to uphold.”
Ultimately, though, I came to the conclusion that the people who think we need to create a purely professional, one-dimensional brand online have got it totally wrong.
Hear me out.
Right now, there are two generations in the workforce who think in diametrically opposite ways about identity. Executives who came of age in the pre-smartphone era take it as a given that you should have a separate professional persona that reads like a profile in Forbes and doesn’t overlap with your personal life.
But my generation came of age in a world with social networks, and we know that we don’t have that luxury anymore. We understand that the business leaders of the future will be three-dimensional personalities whose lives, interests, hobbies and passions outside of work are documented and on display.
We should embrace this new world. The answer isn’t fewer baby pictures; it’s more baby pictures. It’s not that I should post less; it’s that everyone else should post more.
Let’s change what it means to be professional in the Internet age. The time when your personal identity was a secret to your colleagues is over and done. And that is a good thing.
If anything, being my authentic self online makes me a better leader at work. Research has shown that when you refuse to share personal details on Facebook with your colleagues, it reduces your likability in the office compared with that of people who share. A forthcoming white paper by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School shows that people who shared personal information with their work colleagues and bosses—and seamlessly blended their off-line and online lives—were thought of as better workers.
Since we’re all going to be exposing more about ourselves online in our careers, we need to start being a bit more tolerant of what we learn about our colleagues and professional contacts. Employees are people too, and most (or at least some) of their lives are spent outside the office. As the distinction between public and private behavior changes, so should our expectations of one another.
We also need to be sure that we respect one another’s tech-life balance. Given that your work colleagues will also be your friends on social media, there could come a time when you are still waiting for a response from them relating to a work matter and see that they have had time to post something on Instagram or make a move in Words With Friends. At these times, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone has a life outside of work—and we’re all entitled to it.
This also applies in the world of our friends. With texting, in particular, it feels as if we should get a response instantaneously. But demanding an instant reply to your messages is like tapping someone on the shoulder and interrupting a conversation they’re having with someone else.
When you maintain a single identity online and grant the same to your co-workers, you not only become better regarded and more trustworthy at work, but you also become more productive.
Plus, who doesn’t like baby photos of kids on vacation? There’s nothing more adorable than watching little Asher try to walk in the sand. I think I have a picture of it somewhere.
Zuckerberg is the CEO and founder of Zuckerberg Media and author of Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives (HarperCollins Publishers, 2013), from which this is adapted.