I’d like to share a personal experience that can be exemplary of the type of real or perceived conflicts between personal and professional role on social media. As I have always said, real and productive engagement on social media require people to be themselves and not just spokespersons of their employer (there are colleagues who have that role and are great at performing it).
A few days ago I heard from a colleague that a popular Italian blogger had complained over a post-event dinner about a comment I had made a long time ago on Facebook. I am not sure if my recollection is accurate, but I think that about a year ago I responded to an enthusiastic comment he made about an event he had been invited to, which seemed rather lame to me, by observing that he was unlikely to criticize an event he had been invited to speak at.
I thought this was not even an incident, but apparently the guy was pissed, so he griped about me with colleagues at that dinner. In that discussion and in the following exchanges with some of my colleagues, it became apparent that – in spite of my disclaimers and relentless compliance with our own social media policy – some people read some of my statements as potentially embarrassing for Gartner.
Luckily enough this seems to be limited to when I comment about the situation in my country,. According to one of my colleagues, my own passion and disappointment for the current situation would cloud my otherwise neutral judgment. While somebody thinks this reveals my political preferences, anybody who knows me and has a good memory can witness that I have been criticizing the Italian government attitude to IT for a long time, through at least four different coalitions of different color.
Not my fault if this country offers numerous examples that can be used to distil lessons about what not to do rather than about what to do as well as about how individual, courageous initiatives can solve systemic deficiencies. Not my fault if in more than 25 years of career, mostly spent abroad or dealing with international clients, I have often had to overcome a credibility gap or swallow cheap jokes for the very reason of being Italian and having some of our political leaders reinforcing the worst stereotypes about our people.
However this raises an interesting point about how to manage the very thin and moving boundary between personal and professional. Should I stop using personal experiences to exemplify disservice and areas for improvement? Should I stop saying anything about what happens in my own country? If so, I would be self-censoring, and the next step could well be that I would become more cautious in how to tackle situations that may directly or indirectly involve Gartner clients or prospects. But then, what would prevent this from creeping into my professional approach to analysis? Wouldn’t this threaten my independence as an analyst?
So far, I have been publicly criticizing and praising the same individuals or organizations depending on what they do and not who they are, and while some of my posts sound a bit cynical, this is because I cover topics that are often excessively hyped.
Actually I have noticed that some of the criticisms I receive come from people who dislike my down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach on certain topics, and quite often their outrage is connected to me suggesting that their government clients should spend less rather than more money, start small before deploying grand plans, leverage internal resources rather than placing expensive consulting contracts.
I wonder whose independence and credibility is at stake here.