Brendan Eich was forced to step down as CEO of the Mozilla Foundation this week after less than two weeks as CEO. He’s an exceptional technical talent and visionary, but failed to understand the criticism that his personal donation of $1000 to support California’s Proposition 8 initiative in 2008 would attract. His tone-deaf defense, that business and personal are distinctly separate domains of his life, failed to sway his customers, investors, or Board.
These days, much like politicians, CEOs are expected to mirror the soft aspirations of their organizations, purpose, values, tolerance, and character, as well as embody the hard business aspects of vision, honesty, competition, and leadership.
I started experimenting with social media ten years ago. Beginning with a personal web page and an early Facebook account, I went on to start albums on Flickr, a narrative blog to share my expat experiences, and code to push my Pocket saves to Twitter for friends to read. I talked to my students about the difference in personal and public presence, static and dynamic content, and ways to align their content with the purposes of each combination.
I had discovered the limits occasionally. When content spilled into the wrong bucket (a creative writing assignment, memorably), I would hear about the leak from colleagues. I was surprised at parties when a stranger would greet me with details of my travels or activities.
And so I learned to tweak my privacy settings, cull my user lists, and moderate my content.
Once I started creating a business organization, once I became a CEO, I also found that more people, more distant from knowing me, also began drawing inferences from my social media. An out-of-date Linkedin profile misled people about my continuing involvement with prior consulting. The tweeted stream of article links raised doubts about my focus; the blog was too candid about some personal issues.
I have to manage my bank accounts so that personal and business money are kept strictly separate. Cash only flows between them in particular, proscribed ways: invoices and expenses.
A similar concept needs to be observed for social media.
Omar Ishrak’s internet presence is an instructive example. The statistic of his life are posted on his Business Week profile, but they are also reflected consistently throughout his social media outlets. His LinkedIn is professional, a CV (not up-to-date, but professional). His Twitter stream notes business-related articles and motivates his team: there are no indications of broader or personal interests.
Everything supports and motivates his corporation and its mission: his online presence is a personal reinforcement of his position representing the corporation.
The contrast between Mr. Eich and Mr. Ishrak is instructive. A CEO is a public figure representing the company to investors, employees, customers, and communities. What is said online will be indexed, aggregated, linked, discovered, broadcast, and discussed. So, even leading a small, young company, keep the management of your personal brand in mind:
- Separate your personal and professional presences as rigorously as you do your personal and professional finances.
- Be a resource and curator for your followers; reinforce the messages that you give to them face-to-face.
- Be honest and interesting, but do not over-share personal details.
- Keep content up to date and factual; monitor comments.
- Manage privacy appropriately, distinguishing content seen by family, friends, colleagues, followers, and the general public.
- Set triggers (Google Alerts) to notify you when content relevant to your sites and name appear.