It's 2012. The future is here. If I can land a 747 heavy on Fifth Avenue with the technology embedded in my wristwatch, it's time to stop thinking that our brands will "one day merge into one."
They already have - years ago, in fact. We're the ones who need to adjust.
Every single day, someone directs me to their LinkedIn profile to learn more about them. You know what I do when they do that? I go right to Facebook and search on their name there. Why? Because I know they're on their best behavior on LinkedIn, but on Facebook, they're going to be "real." Guess what? I'm not the only person who thinks this way.
You simply have to realize that everything you post online, whether you believe it to be "professional" or "personal" is personal. It all is. Every last photo, comment, and check-in. It's all about who you are.
Let's face it: You don't "shut off" at 5:30pm. If you're a spokesperson for a company, what makes you any less that spokesperson simply because it's 1:30 am and you've had nine tequila shots? Nothing. You need to be smarter. I'm not saying don't have fun - but I am saying you need to be aware that everything you do, both on the clock and off, affects your brand. And your brand is all you have.
True story: I was giving a speech at a college graduation two years ago. I mentioned to the graduates that were going to have to be smarter now that anyone can search on anything. Someone actually raised their hand and told me that their profile on Facebook was limited to "only their closest friends," so I was wrong.
I nodded, then asked a simple question to the audience: "Is anyone in the audience a friend of this woman on Facebook?"
Immediately, several hands shot up. I pointed to the first person there, and reached into my wallet. "So, here's a hundred bucks. Can I login to Facebook as you?" He ran onstage, took my hundred bucks, and logged in from my computer, which was connected to a giant screen above my head.
Looking directly at the woman who first told me I was wrong, I said the following: "You have as long as it takes me to look up your name and broadcast your photos on this giant screen above my head to tell me that I'm not wrong, and that you haven't thought this issue through."
Three seconds later, she apologized in front of her graduating class, and had learned a valuable lesson.
There is no professional or personal anymore. There's simply your brand. Everything you do affects your brand, and it's up to you to determine whether your brand is affected positively or negatively. That's it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.
Peter Shankman is small business evangelist at Vocus.