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How Much Openness and Transparency is Too Much?

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Phil Wainewright: Business guru John Hagel last week wrote that company executives should share more personal information on their FaceBook profiles. How much information should we be prepared to put online about ourselves? Are there limits, or is transparency always a good thing?

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  • I love this question because I've had this conversation with many peers regard social networking applications. I don't believe there is an answer to this question that will satisfy everyone. Taken any data point, for some it's Too Much Information (TMI) and for others it's not enough detail.

    I don't believe company executives have a responsibility to share personal information publicly simply because they are in a leadership role. Indeed, I believe leaders need to keep distance. Transparency should be used to promote a trusted environment. If there's a question of ethical choice, then transparency should be used to clarify. Analysts' disclaimers when the are receiving payment from a group they are discussing is an excellent way to dispel ethical concerns.

  • Web2 media such as Facebook or Twitter are amplifiers, but unless one is a national figure (in which case there is anyway some press coverage), not that many persons pay attention. Personally, I do not feel the need to publish my vacation photos on Facebook or use it to communicate with friends. I do publish extensive information which I judge is on public record anyway on LinkedIn and other networking sites. I enjoy sharing tidbits on Twitter, and some more serious musings via my blog. That is part of personal brand management, since if one would not take charge of one’s image someone else (or just random) might. All in all, I think that this is a positive step towards responsible freedom – freedom to access public media - and accountability (due to increased exposure). As in most other things, the golden rule is being reasonable and exercising judgment.

  • As an employer and a consultant, I’m often asked this question. My response is that there’s a world of difference between collaborative transparency and open stupidity. For the latter, check out the following, which I stumbled upon courtesy of Seth Godin’s blog: http://www.howtonailaninterview.com/

    Of course there’s no concrete answer on how transparent any person should be. Perhaps twisting Einstein’s famous quote a bit, a fair response could be "share as much information as necessary, but no more".

    Openness encourages collaboration – it’s what makes many open source projects so successful. Openness can also be disarming, in a good way. It can foster approachability and deeper understanding. Executives who harness this power appreciate the benefits. Jonathan Schwartz was one of the first Fortune 500 transparently blogging CEOs, and it helped him become a "rock star" in his own right.

  • For me, the Internet is just another media.
    Like any media, the content is aimed for a specific audience and a specific purpose.
    So, I would be open as much as the audience and the purpose of the communication need to know.
    Any limitation or freedom that we take on ourselves in any human interaction, apply in the Internet as well.

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