Not surprisingly, the survey showed a distinct correlation between comfort levels and age. Seventy-two percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 34 said they are comfortable being Facebook friends with their bosses, whereas mid-career workers between 35 and 54 tended to think connecting with their bosses on Facebook would be “inappropriate.”
“To me, it’s obvious that social networking will become part of the workplace,” says Dan Schawbel, a 28-year-old personal branding consultant. His company, Millennial Branding, conducted a study in November that found the average young professional is already connected on Facebook to 16 coworkers.
Schawbel joined Facebook in college and has 5,000 Facebook friends—the maximum number the site allows per user (such users are called “whales”)—and considers the site mainly a professional networking tool. “The relationship with work is going to change drastically. Eventually, in 10 years, you’re just gonna be connected to everyone all the time, including your boss.”
Kirsten Dixson, also a personal branding expert, agrees that social media are vital. “Every single professional needs to be on LinkedIn and leveraging it,” she says.
But where Schawbel sees a certain liberation in being connected at all times, Dixson takes a more cautious attitude toward blending professional persona and social-media identity.
“We didn’t grow up with this,” says the 43-year-old, who joined Facebook in 2008. “Many people I work with, senior executives, don’t feel Facebook should be part of their professional mix. …They’re trying to keep that separation of the personal and professional.”
Whether it’s even possible to sustain that separation in the long term is up for debate. In the meantime, Rothbard takes the question of whether there’s an advantage to be friends with your boss on Facebook and asks it another way:
“Does it matter if people feel closer to you? Yes.”
And, she added, “If you’re able to do that and manage it really well, there’s huge upside.”
Lillian Cunningham is the editor of the Washington Post’s On Leadership section. Gregory Thomas contributed to this report.
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