(This same question is raised over and over in different contexts. Though I’m talking about Facebook the discussion is clearly not limited in scope to that site.)
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably had to make a decision in the past year or two on whether or not to accept a friend request from a co-worker, perhaps even from your boss. If you aren’t on Facebook, there’s a good chance you’ve overheard people talking about it, who are, and wondered whether you should be there.
If either of those describes you, the time has come. Go forth and connect … and here’s why.
1. Eliminate a social handicap
Maybe your boss plays golf, and you don’t. Maybe he likes to talk baseball, or wine, or literature, and you don’t. You can fake that sort of thing, but speed-learning golf to make a good impression on your boss is a stunt best reserved for the movies, not real life. But if your co-workers, or someone in your management chain, is active on Facebook and is willing to connect with you, they’ve made it easy for you to access their inner circle.
Even if you normally make Facebook your den of debauchery and are afraid your boss will find out what you really do on your “sick days,” you can at least use the privacy controls and friend lists to make sure you have some sort of presence at your workplace’s online party.
2. Expand your network
Just by setting the name of your workplace in your Facebook profile (joining your workplace’s “network”), you open yourself up to hundreds, even thousands, of potential new interactions. By friending a few co-workers, you begin realizing that potential immediately. What you do with your network, well, that’s your business. But when the time comes that you need it, you want to have it built and ready, not germinating in sandy soil. You might think LinkedIn is sufficient but if there are people connecting somewhere else and you’re deliberately choosing not to, your network is suffering.
Don’t connect when you get laid off, connect now. Be ready.
3. Learn the norms of the “next level”
They say you should dress for the job you want next. How about having the online image of the job you want next? If the people who have the job you want are on Facebook, here’s your chance to learn how they manage their online presence. Don’t just friend the people you grew up with, friend the people you want to work with in a few years. Even if you aren’t looking to climb any ladders, understanding the online social norms of the high-profile people in your network will help you make informed decisions about your own behavior.
4. Show them you have a life
There are two reasons you want to remind your co-workers and managers that you have a life.
How many times have you heard someone say, even in jest, “don’t trust someone who doesn’t swear” (or drink)? This isn’t about drinking or swearing or gambling, but it is about showing your professional network that you do have a personal life. You might not like it, but the truth is that if you come off as someone with no life outside of work, it may have the opposite impact of what you intend. Showing that you do know how to relax, that you do have to balance family and workplace, that you went to a superbowl party and tried a new type of beer, that you enjoyed a movie … in moderation these add up to helping your network feel like they know you, that they can identify with you.
The second reason is more selfish — if your manager knows that you had a busy weekend at home watching your kids, or that you’re rushing off to a town meeting after work, your manager is forced to think of you has a human being and not just as a name associated with tasks. How much of your personal time you sacrifice to get your work done is your business, but at the very least you should make it clear that there’s something being sacrificed. “He doesn’t mind staying late, it’s not like he has a family waiting up for him” is not what you want your manager to be saying.
5. Learn some new skills
But I already use Facebook to connect with my college buddies, you say. We send each other motivational posters with the words EPIC FAIL at the bottom and laugh at how clever we are.
Fine. Welcome to adulthood, where you have to find ways to balance and juggle your personal and professional lives. Don’t just put off this problem, embrace it. Learn some new skills, figure out how to keep those two worlds separate OR how to integrate them in a way that doesn’t lessen either. In the end you’ll be better equipped to handle this sort of problem the next time it comes up, and trust me, it will keep coming up. Refusing to add your boss to your Facebook network is just putting off the pain, not eliminating it.
That last point shouldn’t be forgotten. If you aren’t smart about how you do this, you can open yourself up to some real pain. Don’t just blindly assume because your boss wants to friend you that he or she is ready to compare keg party stories. Know your audience and be smart about it, though, and you can turn this into a real opportunity.