The Lessons of John Mackey: Managing Your Online Identity in Terms of Your Career

By now, many Colorado readers have heard about the John Mackey surprise; here was a CEO that was posting opinions and data on a company later sold to his firm, Whole Foods. The key points most people seem to make regarding this story are that a) wow, he posted under a pseudonym for 7 years on his rival, Wild Oats; b) hmmm… what exactly did he say and who did it affect? (while the SEC investigates); and c) what in the world is a CEO doing with this kind of activity, anyway?

This is a great example of the presence of online identity and how one can either use it to empower or endanger a career. While I doubt Mr. Mackey saw anything untoward in posting his diatribes, it is possible that the public, the SEC, and Whole Foods’ board of directors soundly disagree.

My takeaway on this subject is the same advice I would give to any professional that is convinced he or she may still need another job someday: Don’t forget that who could be watching. This applies to blog posts, MySpace, FaceBook, group chat, and any other type of forum that seemingly encourages free expression.

While “free” may appear to be a key word here, consider just how much latitude employers may allow when considering a candidate–especially after you’ve offered more than a glimpse into your thoughts.

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