Gini Dietrich

Facebook Privacy

By: Gini Dietrich | May 11, 2010 | 

The third podcast of Inside PR is in the can and this week we discuss Facebook privacy (listen to it here – we’re getting better at it!), which has become a pretty big topic of late as the giant continues to change its security options. At least once a day, there is something circulating that tells you which buttons to change to keep your information more secure.

But I think the issue here  is less about Facebook letting Google search our walls and more about what it is we put on the web for the entire world to see.

We don’t think about the entire world seeing what we’re posting because we think it’s behind a “locked” door and no one can see it.

Joe Thornley, during the podcast, said, when he speaks, he asks his audience if they changed their security (or passwords) less than a week ago. Typically only a couple of people raise their hands. When was the last time you changed your password, clicked “no” on a new security option, or Googled yourself to see what the spiders are finding?

But this isn’t just about Facebook. I have a story to tell you.  I’m embarrassed by it, but I think it’s important in this conversation. Last Memorial Day, I was in Beaver Creek with some friends. The girls hiked all day so we were adrenaline ridden, plus we’d had a few drinks.  One of my dearest friends LOVES Keanu Reeves. I mean, top five list loves. And we always tease her that he’s gay so she is wasting one of her top five list picks on him (the rule is that if someone on your top five list approached you, you have carte blanche to do what you like with that person without your significant other getting upset). So she made some crazy bet with my husband and, if she lost, she had to admit that she was wrong about Keanu.

Fine, right? Well, I tweeted about the bet. And a prospective client saw it. His perception was that I am homophobic and that I share too much online. He decided not to sign our contract and we lost that piece of business.

So something that was all in fun and fueled by adrenaline and drinks turned into a lost piece of business for us. Sure, you can argue that it probably wasn’t the right client for us anyway (and I did argue that in my head), but the lesson is that I shared too much, I unintentionally offended him, and it cost not only the business but my reputation, in his eyes. And in the words of Warren Buffet, “You can lose money for the firm and I’ll be understanding. But lose reputation for the firm and I’ll be ruthless.”

What you put online is your reputation. It’s your professional reputation. It’s your personal reputation. My rule of thumb is that I don’t put anything online I wouldn’t want my grandparents to see…and I violated that rule in Beaver Creek.

You only have the perception of security and it’s getting more and more open every day. Sure we can all fight it and create a groundswell around what Facebook can and cannot share, but let’s face it, even if they are prevented from sharing everything they want, they still own everything you post on your wall.

So  be prudent. Next time you go to post about a bet that might cast you in a bad light, think about how potential clients, potential employers, potential colleagues, clients, employees, your kids, your siblings, your nieces, your nephews, your grandparents, and burglars (yes, even burglars!) might perceive what you have to say.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on this subject.
    It is not about privacy settings, it is about content. In working with community prevention coalitions, I constantly here organizations concerns over privacy, and this is a great perspective to take.
    Thank you for sharing your story, and letting us learn from your experience.

  • Another great post, Gini and so true! Love that you are willing to share so honestly in order to illustrate your point. While this is an example of sharing too much personally, do you think the same can be true professionally? For example, if you are working with a controversial client do you keep that work close to the vest to avoid the chance of clients and prospects who might not support the cause or organization not wanting to work with you? Or do you put it out there with the attitude of “this is our work and if you can’t respect it, that’s your choice”? (Which might also mean losing business.) Would love to hear your thoughts or discuss live with you in Asheville next week!

  • Dana, such a great question…and it does probably require more conversation (over drinks without Twitter). I do think this applies in all aspects – personal and professional. Because we no longer have our professional selves and our personal selves. The lines are blurred and we now have ourselves. In the case you cite, I would say that, if the client doesn’t care that you talk about it, and you don’t care if you offend some people, then have it! As much as I would like to believe, not everyone likes us and you will offend someone…even when you think you’re being pretty bland.

    I don’t know…Verhoosky, what do you think? You work with community prevention coalitions. What are your thoughts?

  • Dana- I agree that this is a great question, and one that I have struggled with in the past. A large portion of the organizations that I work with are community prevention coalitions, focusing on underage substance abuse and drinking prevention. That said, I have also done work for bars, local breweries, and other pro-alcohol organizations. The way I look at it, you need to set your own boundaries, realize what your limits are, determine who you want to work with, and figure out at what cost are you willing to bend and/or break your own rules. I feel there is no need to hide who you work with, be proud of your work, be transparent, and as long as you can stand behind what you do, you should be good.

  • Deb Dobson

    First off Gini, I love your openness always in your writing. Today’s world is about transparency and you demonstrate that daily. I’ve followed the Facebook privacy issue closely and read many responses regarding it. I truly believe that once you leap into the online world, you do have to realize that whatever, whereever you post something, well, it is there forever. I would tell my attorneys at my former firm, and I tell my clients, if you are going to post something, is it somehing you would be comfortable with on the news, your mother reading…now having said that…do we have the possibility of someone not liking it or being offended? Yep, happens IRL too.

  • Okay two things about this post – first and foremost I love the collaboration that you have going with Joe Thornley and David Jones from InsidePR…they are two highly respected players North of the Border here (and across Twitter). So kudos to you all on that one.

    Second, I agree with you point that when sharing things on Facebook you also have to think about how many different people are going to see this and (although you can’t be in everyone’s head) more importantly how are they going to take or perceive it? I think we take the adage that we adopt at events and in traditional communications – never talk near an open mike and never say something you wouldn’t want to appear in tomorrow’s paper.

    I think until our audience gets to know and understand us (like we do you) best to keep things in the open on the straight and level if you are concerned about how it will be viewed and to take things offline or as a direct message to the entire pack if so. And final thought – I’m betting Keanu would probably have smiled anyway at the banter. Cheers, Andy

  • I was having a conversation about sharing too much online. Beyond ruining your personal or professional reputation, everyone in your social networks doesn’t need to need to know every detail of your daily life; what you had for lunch, that you’re going to a meeting…Sure we want to engage but I think there’s engagement and then there’s narcisism (hey, I’m talking about myself too). I’ve stopped sharing so much on facebook and otherwise. I’m an autobiographical writer and share personal stories on my blog, but I’ve been thinking its best not to overshare. Everyonr has their own threshold. When it comes to FB for me, I’m only keeping my profile open so my that people I actually know IRL can feel connected, but I hardly ever post and will probably be posting even less going forward.

  • Gini – This is a great post. I think long and hard before I put something on my blog or Twitter. We all have a bit of a divide between our live and online selves, and I think that’s ok.

    Something I also don’t like to see is unending negativity from my contacts. Constant complaints put you (the general you) in such a bad light, so it’s equally important to look at the sum of your status updates and ensure the majority are positive. Everyone enjoys a bit of snark or can share our daily frustrations, but a negative feed is instantly off-putting!

  • Gini, It’s YOUR reputation, MY reputation NOT Facebook’s. So WORD to this post. I just RT’d this from @omarg: If you want privacy on Facebook, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree that sits outside your window and watches you undress.

    I keep FB personal but knowing it’s NOT private, I don’t post anything I don’t want known. Period. I have a public Twitter profile, @3HatsComm which posts about 70/30 professional and personal. And yes I have “secret” accounts with clever user names for anonymous tweets, YouTube fan videos (#dontjudgeme 😉 and all that.

    Bottom line, if you don’t want something known, don’t put it online and tell your “friends” not to either. FWIW.

  • Great post about a great topic… It hurts to think that something you did or said would lead to a loss of revenue, whether that customer was “right” for your company or not. As a small biz owner, it’s never more true.
    But I feel slightly different about the topic. I am who I am with my internet face, with my friends, my grandma and companies I work with. I try to be as open with all of them as I possibly can be, because I’m always selling myself. Regardless of my product, you get me… come hell or high water.

    I sometimes have to work hard to *not* sensor myself when the urge arises.

    But, as a video creator, I may work in a slightly different, more creative world than the average Joe… and I get that. I think people choose me more often than not because they can trust that I’m being the real me.

  • Jack T.

    I’m sorry to say I disagree with this post. The problem with tweeting an inside joke is not that it’s a potentially offensive joke or that you’re publishing it publicly and for eternity on the web–the problem is that our current social network options lack the sophistication of picking and choosing your audience with each individual post.

    This is why Facebook upsets a number of people when it comes to privacy. If you want to share a joke with your friends, there should be a way to share it with just that specific group of friends. We shouldn’t have to always second guess what we’re sharing with others, just like when you make a joke in real life you don’t expect all your clients to hear it.

    That being said, UNTIL a service comes to fruition that can fill the gap left by Facebook’s opt-out privacy approach, your blog post is dead-on–we all have to be on guard.

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  • Jack disagrees! Bah humbug. 🙂 I think we actually agree, Jack. And Matt? I keep telling myself that that client would have fired us for something silly anyway so my tweet just saved us some heartache.

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