In 2018, an anonymous reader wrote a short letter to the New York Times, asking whether he should accept his boss on Facebook or not. The anonymous reader added that the boss was new, and that he didn’t like his management style but, even if this was not the case, he’d have doubts about whether he should accept him or not.
What will I read about in this article?
- Which social networks would you add your boss to?
- 4 types of network behaviour
- Characteristics of the sender
- Practical advice
Which social networks would you add your boss to?
Surely many of us have found ourselves in similar situations. When this happens on LinkedIn, there are few doubts, as it is a professional network and it is normal to accept our professional contacts. Twitter does not generate too many misgivings either, as the vast majority of profiles are open; the only dilemma might be whether to follow back.
However, Facebook or Instagram are another matter. These networks do pose an internal conflict when it comes to whether or not to accept your boss’s request, as they’re social networks where the content shown, often in private, is more intimate and personal.
Therefore, these two social networks are potential spaces of collision between our professional and personal worlds (Ollier-Malaterre, Rothbard, & Berg, 2013), and force us to make new choices about the way we combine our professional and personal identities.
“Facebook and Instagram are potential spaces of collision between our professional and personal worlds”.
4 types of behaviour on social networks when we mix personal and professional
Ollier-Malaterre, Professor of Management at the University of Quebec in Montreal, and her colleagues present four types of strategies based on two elements —the level of segmentation/integration and the type of motivation— with different possible employment consequences:
* Open behaviour. These are people who integrate their professional and personal contacts in their social networks. Recalling the article on segmentation and integration, this type of person is defined as an integrator. At the same time, this profile is driven by a self-verification motivation; they fearlessly publish everything they think, whether it’s controversial or not. According to the authors, this behaviour reduces the level of respect and liking that other professionals have for them.
* Audience behaviour. These are people who segment their professional and personal contacts by social networks. In this case, they are segmenters, and therefore do not accept their boss on more personal social networks (e.g. Facebook, Instagram). In turn, like the previous group, they’re driven by a self-verification motivation, posting their thoughts, whether controversial or not, as well as less conventional photographs, without too much hesitation. According to the authors, this behaviour maintains the level of respect from professional contacts, but may decrease the level of liking, as they have been ignored or rejected as friends on social networks by the person in question.
* Content behaviour. These are people who integrate their professional and personal contacts in their social networks. Like the open behaviour group, they are integrators. They do not mind adding professional contacts to their more personal social networks. The difference is that these people are driven by a motivation of self-enhancement, seeking approval from others, which implies choosing very well the content they post, which usually revolves around achievements, glamour, and everything that can improve the image of the person in question. They do not deal with controversial topics. According to the authors, these behaviours increase the respect and liking of professional contacts for these people.
* Hybrid behaviour. These are people who segment their professional contacts and people in social networks. Like the audience behaviour group, they are segmenters. In turn, and like the content behaviour group, they choose very well what content to show to their contacts, driven by a motivation of self-promotion (self-enhancement). According to the authors, these behaviours also increase the respect and liking of professional contacts towards these people.
In summary, there are two types of behaviour, open and content-driven, who choose to add their boss to non-professional social networks. The difference is that one group controls the content and the other doesn’t, thus generating different organisational implications.
Who are we most willing to accept in our social networks?
Accepting a professional contact in a social network is not a minor issue. It’s a visible, explicit and long-lasting decision (Rothbard, Ramarajan, Ollier-Malaterre, & Lee, 2022), and not only the behaviours of the person who accepts (or not) the friend request matter, but also the characteristics of the professional contacts who send the friend request. That’s why University of Pennsylvania management professor Nancy Rothbard and her colleagues decided to make an effort to understand such characteristics through different studies.
They examine three characteristics:
- Whether or not applicants show prior information (disclousure) such as tastes or hobbies.
- Whether male or female (gender)
- Your status. It’s not the same to accept your boss, colleagues or subordinates on social networks.
Participants tend to be more likely to accept requests for professional contacts when:
- Peers’ requests show information about themselves beforehand.
- When they share the same hierarchical level.
On the other hand, the gender hypothesis has not been confirmed, and there are no major differences in whether the request comes from a man or a woman. Gender only plays a role in one case, and that’s in the case of female supervisors. Female supervisors who show more information have more chances of being accepted than female supervisors who don’t, while in the case of male supervisors there’s no difference in whether they show information or not, as the probability of being accepted is very similar.
Tips for when you do (or don’t) decide to add your boss on social networks
The results of both studies, the one on social networking behaviour and the one on the characteristics of professional profiles that tend to be more accepted on non-professional social networks, have, according to their authors, some implications:
- Employees should be aware that maintaining dividing lines on social media between their professional and personal identities has work-related implications.
- Organisations should be aware that employees consider the risks and opportunities of adding colleagues from different hierarchical levels in their social networks.
- Supervisors should be aware that employees are often uncomfortable with having to accept a supervisor in a non-professional social network.
- Organisations should promote policies that prevent the use of personal information posted on social media for professional decisions.
- Organisations, faced with this new challenge for 21st century employees, could offer training to improve digital-social skills and enable employees to develop the strategy they consider most appropriate.
- Ollier-Malaterre, A., Rothbard, N. P., & Berg, J. M. (2013). When worlds collide in cyberspace: How boundary work in online social networks impacts professional relationships. Academy of Management Review, 38(4), 645–669. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2011.0235
- Rothbard, N. P., Ramarajan, L., Ollier-Malaterre, A., & Lee, S. S. (2022). OMG! My Boss Just Friended Me: How Evaluations of Colleagues’ Disclosure, Gender, and Rank Shape Personal/Professional Boundary Blurring Online. Academy of Management Journal, 65(1), 35–65. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2018.0755