When it comes to cleared professionals and social media, less may very well be more. Particularly as it concerns public facing social media sites.

social networking and a security clearance

ClearanceJobs.com contributor David Brown argues, “In years past, a political rant might cost you a few friends.  Now it might cost you your job.  It’s not worth the risk.” Jennifer Cary advised last May, “If you have a security clearance or work for the government, your best bet is to play it safe on social media . . . . The idea that someone can look at your social media sites and it could result in the loss of your job is a new concept that can be hard to swallow.” A few days later, Editor Lindy Kyzer reported, “A memo released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper paves the way for social media checks to be used in the security clearance background investigation process. . . . you should expect your name to be searched on popular search engines and social media sites . . . .” All of that’s great advice. But what about brand!


Brand is about trust. The idea is that a company’s brand—think Microsoft, Apple, Nike—speaks volumes about the product. Then there’s personal brand or personal branding, a process available to most anyone with a smartphone. Personal branding is about working to establish a presence, hopefully a very positive one, in the e-world. In the e-world, if you have a strong personal brand, that, too, means you’re trusted. It means when you Tweet or post to Facebook or publish your blog, people take notice, and people listen. You’re a dependable voice in an e-world of idle, often mindless and pointless chatter, likes, tweets and retweets. However, your incessant effort to establish your personal brand by way of a constant presence in e-world may very well be undermining your objective: recognition as a smart, trusted, insightful voice.


In case you missed it (I certainly did), last November New York Times contributor Cal Newport gave cleared professionals a simple reason to kick the social media habit. Newport simply argues, “You should quit social media because it can hurt your career.” Quit? Social media? Quit? Yes. Quit. Newport’s argument makes a tremendous amount of sense, especially for those proud to call themselves cleared professionals. Dr. Cal Newport—MIT grad, Dartmouth grad, Georgetown associate professor of computer science, already author of five books and recognized expert on how technology affects your world—acknowledges, “We’ve been told that it’s important to tend to your so-called social media brand, as this provides you access to opportunities you might otherwise miss and supports the diverse contact network you need to get ahead. Many people in my generation fear that without a social media presence, they would be invisible to the job market.”

Then, Newport rips the sheen right off social media branding like he’s ripping a band-aid from an infected wound: “In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable.” He’s right, of course. Anybody can tweet and retweet headlines. Too many can read a litany of headlines rolling down an iPhone screen like the stock market ticker and quip. But, as Newport argues, that’s not what being professional is about. “Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about.” In other words, it’s about work. Retweeting isn’t work. Posting on Facebook isn’t work.

can you focus on the hard tasks?

I’d argue that the more one tweets, the less one’s thinking. Trust me, I know. Newport agrees. “Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy,” Newport writes. “Social media weakens this skill because it’s engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used . . . the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.” Again, in stark terms, Newport explains, “The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you’re serious about creating things that matter.” In my view, there’s great virtue and reward in quietly sitting, thinking, ruminating, discovering, developing, and refining. Social media, frankly—and I’m poking myself in the eye right now—encourages just the opposite.

When it comes to professionalism, to establishing a personal brand that means something, especially in the world of cleared professionals, there’s about one way to get it. Work. Hard, thoughtful work.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.