My Private Parts

Parallels between Individual Privacy and Company Transparency

Until a few years ago I kept my life relatively private. Not only in the sense of keeping personal information from the public, but also by segmenting my social circles. I had multiple personas, with clear boundaries between information I would share among “family”, “friends”,  “co-workers”, or “acquaintances.”

When I started using social networking sites a couple of years ago, I initially transposed my segmentation to the virtual life (I communicated with family by phone and e-mail, Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for professional connections, etc). But it became increasingly difficult to manage all those groups and the leaking of context between them (despite the efforts of social network websites to help you manage “circles” or “groups”).

There was a point where I gave up maintaining those personal circles. It is just too difficult to keep track of who is in which group and what are the overlaps. I still try to route content that is relevant to each group, but I assume that what I say online can and will be seen by everyone. To a large degree, I gave up my privacy as most people understand it.

While it was initially difficult to make that leap, I eventually found the experience to be liberating. Once I internalized my newly found transparency, I did not need to think twice about who was the audience before writing or saying something. I can say what I think, as long as that was something I am willing to share with the world.

Of course, I do not advocate the end of the rights to segmentation, privacy or secrecy. On the contrary, I think those rights become even more important to freedom in a more social world. What I am saying is that, from a personal perspective, refraining from exercising those rights in excess for the illusion of privacy can be a very liberating experience.

I think the same applies to companies and social organizations. Advocating organizational transparency might trigger skepticism among people used to functional segmentation, but we are going from communicating only in a “need to know basis”, to the “public by default” era. With more organizational transparency, perhaps we sacrifice some focus and accountability, but if vision and strategy is shared effectively, we gain in execution and don’t need to spend as much time in management and alignment.

If companies are to engage with customers using social media, they must be more transparent and less controlling in that interaction. They also need to transform themselves from the inside-out. Employees must be trusted and empowered to help the organization engage satisfactorily with customers.

When companies go through that transformation, I suspect their experience will be similar to my personal evolution from a “private” to a “social” person and they will find that it is easier, not harder, to conduct business that way.

And you, what is your secret?


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