Pre-internet, the extent to which we knew about each other was the extent to which we volunteered information about ourselves. We generally kept our business to ourselves, and we were happy in our ignorance. We had a work life and, at the end of a long day, we went home to a personal life.
Today we’re exposed to abundant details about our friends and family, including hundreds or thousands of “friends” we don’t even know. It’s the largest personal soapbox the world has ever known and we welcome anyone who’ll listen. We snap selfies over breakfast, film ourselves feeding the dog and host live videos on our way to the mailbox, trying to satisfy an insatiable appetite for sharing every moment with anyone who will listen. Even some of the busiest people we know somehow find time to update us often.
Unfortunately, this environment has created a need for digital detoxes, social media addiction therapy and other conditions. Experts have warned against the harmful effects of oversharing. Think you are exempt? Consider this: Mixed in with your hundreds of connections, followers and friends, how many are clients or prospective clients? The extent of our attention to privacy settings is often little more than the “I agree” button at the end of the 78-page legal document.
The costs of oversharing.
A majority of the estimated 80 percent of small-business owners using Facebook are posting every day. According to CareerBuilder, “70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates” prior to hiring. It’s wise to assume potential clients are exercising the same due diligence when they consider doing business with you.
Trying to maintain a separation between personal and business is fruitless. Social media has connected us all to each other. Friends read your business posts and clients follow your personal posts, which means your business brand is your personal brand. It’s what you signed up for when you became an entrepreneur.
As you post, you should assume that every bit of information you put out adds to, or takes from, the value of your personal brand. The temptation is in volunteering too much information. Nobody wants to know about your ingrown toenail.
There are many risks you take when you overshare on social media, beginning with the risk of cheapening your brand.
Sharing unimportant content suggests you don’t value your reader’s time. You’re asking them to take their time to read a post that provides no value in return. Ultimately, the result is friends and clients lower their expectations when it comes to your content. Your personal brand takes the hit.
Next, you risk developing an addiction to external validation.
Often, oversharing stems from the desire for a response: a laugh, a groan or an emoji. What we’re doing is training our minds to constantly seek validation. Perpetually needing approval from others only harms a person’s self-worth.
Have you ever hit the refresh button to see the latest statistic on the number of likes, comments or shares on a recent post, tweet or blog article? As important as they are as metrics, never attach your self-worth to analytics. It’s much too important to be measured by algorithms created in Google or Facebook’s conference rooms.
Third, you risk your time and energy explaining or defending the information in your post.
One of the key insights of the minimalist movement is that whatever you own costs you resources to maintain. Shoes must be shined, clothes need cleaning, light bulbs have to be replaced, computers require updates. Everything costs more than the original purchase price.
The same principle applies to the oversharing of our lives. Posting a funny breakfast meme may seem harmless until one of your followers types in a snarky comment about gluten. Someone else replies with a GIF. Another puts you on defense with a link to an article about how unhealthy your meal was. All you wanted was to make someone laugh, but what you got was an energy-draining dialogue. You spend your morning responding, clarifying or defending your post instead of working on your business or furthering a cause.
You didn’t ask for people to publicly dissect the contents of your meal. It happened organically. But as the author, you can’t help but feel an obligation to respond.
Finally, oversharing can have a negative effect on others.
Online dialogs create vacuums where the benefit of body language is absent, which experts say make up the majority of our communication. If you think your post is funny but everyone else thinks it’s rude, you may not ever know.
Friends and clients can also be turned off when they read one more update about your morning workout. Much has been written on the topic of post frequency. Oversharing is akin to gossip. As you gain a reputation as someone who posts too much, your friends and clients begin to see you as someone who cannot keep secrets.
The key to avoiding oversharing is to click your mental pause button before clicking “post.” Then, put that pause to work by asking yourself the following:
- Do I REALLY want to share this post?
- Am I emotionally stable right now? (It’s never a good idea to post or send an email when your emotions are high.)
- Am I OK with this being shared and seen by others without me knowing?
- Would I be comfortable with a potential employer or client reading this?
- Is this post providing value in the lives of my readers?
As hard as Mark Zuckerberg and the other social tycoons try to convince us that it is, your privacy is not 100 percent in your hands. The internet has provided fantastic resources for personal and business use. Trying to keep them separate is an uphill battle you’re likely to lose. Regardless, it’s up to you to use them responsibly. Resist the urge to post about every detail of your life. Some things are better kept private. Like the spoken word, once it is posted, it cannot be taken back.