The advent of Facebook’s new Timeline feature gives you, your colleagues, and your customers a whole new set of reasons to share your moment-by-moment news, photos, and reflections. Instead of a flat list of stories on your wall, and a glob of biographical data on your profile, the new Timeline creates a visually attractive story of your life dating all the way back to the date of your (reported) birth. If and when Timeline gets rolled out to Pages (as Facebook is already hinting), we will see brand presences change in much the same way: into dynamic, chronological, and visual stories.
But the business impact of Timeline will be felt long before it arrives on brand pages. As Timeline rolls out on individual profiles, anyone who has both a professional career and a Facebook account will have to rethink the relationship between them. Timeline is going to change the way Facebook interacts with our professional lives. Here are the changes to watch for — and the ways you can make them work for you instead of against you:
1. You’ll know too much about your colleagues: If the folks in the C-suite have remained largely inscrutable until now, expect at least some of them to fall prey to Facebook’s enhanced charms. Just as it’s hard to resist mugging for a camera, it may be hard to resist Facebooking just to make your Timeline look prettier, more interesting, or simply less food-centric. That can easily lead to oversharing — which is especially problematic if the person sharing Too Much Information is the public face of your organisation. And you don’t have to be the CEO to worry. The Timeline lays so much out in a browsable form that you need to assume that it will be used as part of hiring processes, client assessments, and even just colleagues wanting to know the name of your new puppy.
You can take full advantage of Timeline without oversharing yourself. If you want to build a Facebook Timeline as a personal scrapbook or intimate communications channel, set up an “inner circle” friends list and make it your default level of privacy for all your posts, or even set your default privacy levels to “only me.”
2. Your colleagues will know the “propersonal” you: If you were holding onto the idea that Facebook could be your personal haven while you build your professional profile on LinkedIn, it’s time to let that fantasy go. The Timeline offers an opportunity for you to tell the story of your career in a uniquely compelling way, so you need to consciously tackle the challenge of building a propersonal profile that will position you appropriately in the eyes of employers, clients, or colleagues.
To create a strong propersonal profile, you have to start by burying any inappropriate content. Use the new privacy setting called “limit the audience for past posts,” so that your entire history becomes invisible to everyone except a select group of friends. Then, go back through the timeline and select a representative, but flattering range of posts and photos that you will share publicly. Complete your career information and flesh out any gaps with additional posts or photos (which you can backdate). Review your new Timeline and make sure the story it tells is consistent with the chronology in your résumé, and more importantly, with the way you present yourself in other professional contexts.
3. You’ll know more about yourself: Even those of us who use Facebook for professional purposes rarely look back further than the past few weeks’ worth of updates and comments. Facebook Insights may tell you the longer-term story in analytics, but that is different from re-reading the cringe-worthy, tone-deaf update you wrote on your first wall post back in 2007. Now that Timeline encourages us to turn back the clock, many of us will get a fresh perspective on how we present ourselves to our colleagues and the world — and we may not like what we see.
That perspective could be as valuable as a year’s worth of executive coaching — if you seize the opportunity to take a hard look at where you spend your time and attention. Before you check out your Facebook Timeline, jot down the professional highs and lows of your past few years. Now look at your Facebook Timeline and compare: Did your big work breakthroughs come when you were barely updating (and perhaps a bit more focused on your job)? Or did your flurries of online activity correlate with the times when you felt especially alive and attuned to the pulse of your organisation? You may gain surprising insights into the relationship between your social media life, your professional success, and your personal satisfaction.
Facebook’s positioning of Timeline as a kind of digital scrapbook suggests that Timeline will primarily be used as a way to look back on one’s own life. Every experience we’ve had with social media to date — including Facebook itself — suggests the opposite. Each new way of sharing or curating our life experiences becomes another opportunity for self-narration, and we spend as much time investigating, critiquing, and engaging with other people’s presences as we do in reviewing our own. With the advent of Timeline, that balance needs to shift — at least until you’re confident that the story you’re telling is a story you can live with.