Social Media: Professional Versus Personal

Can You Really Separate Your Professional and Personal Social Media Lives?

Social media- professional versus personalOn social media, many individuals as well as corporations and other forms of organizations would love to be able to distinguish professional from personal interactions. When it comes to social media, can you really keep your professional and personal lives separate? To quote my accounting professor, it depends.

While I agree with Mari Smith who suggests there are three categories on social media, personal, professional and private, the reality is that nothing is ever private on social media (or the Internet for that matter.) Once you’ve put the information out there, it’s public. Therefore if there’s something you don’t want anyone to know, don’t put it on a social media platform. Even if you believe it’s private, there’s always the chance it will be exposed. (To help your thinking, here’s the social media 10 commandments.)

Even if you spend a lot of time on social media, it’s worthwhile to periodically review how you present yourself. Here are ten points to help you decide how to best show yourself professionally and personally.

  1. Be a real person. On social media platforms, there’s an expectation that interactions are human. Even if you’re representing a firm, you need to be yourself and respond as you would to another human being. This means that you communicate like you would in real life with real language, not corporate speak.
  2. Open the curtains to be transparent in your social media interactions. This doesn’t grant you permission to tell all. Rather, it means that you need to be open about who you are and what you represent, particularly if you’re acting on behalf of a company.
  3. Keep private information private. Don’t be a social media gossip monger. (Are you addicted to social media?) You must be comfortable with the level of information you reveal on social media platforms. Regardless of your privacy settings, once the information’s out there, there’s the potential others will find it. Think broadly since it’s not just about you and your life. It’s your family, friends, colleagues and company. If you’re participating on social media for your organization, know what their expectations are around information. Use common sense and don’t expose financial or personal information. As a firm, it’s critical to have social media guidelines and a PR crisis management plan.
  4. Think personality strip tease. Remove one veil at a time. Let your audience get to know you over a long period of time to build a bond. Revealing some of your personality to demonstrate you’re a real person is to show some facet of who you are in real life. Even if you represent your company, you’re not a firm mascot. You are a real person. While more than one employee can handle an account each one should identify himself in some way. The same holds true for solopreneurs (aka, people who are their own business.)
  5. Show respect for other bloggers, authors and participants. They work to create their content just like you do. Social media doesn’t reward people who steal the spotlight by passing off other people’s ideas and content as their own. Content creators own their own intellectual property and deserve the credit on social media and search. This extends to social media platforms such Pinterest, blog archives and content aggregation sites. Republishing someone’s blog posts on your site under your URL is wrong!
  6. Avoid the magnetic pull of attention getting inflammatory remarks. Skip the four letter words. While it works for some people like Erika Napoletano, it’s generally not a great way to win social media friends especially if you’re building a business or working for an established company. A good way to determine whether it’s acceptable is the mother test. Would it embarrass your mom? If so, don’t say it or show it on social media. Remember social media is on the Internet and the Internet’s memory is forever.
  7. Count to ten before you respond on social media. Social media can be challenging since your reaction to the information you read can get transferred straight to your fingertips without stopping in your brain to get assessed. As a result, things that cause an emotional response rush onto your screen without a second thought. This feedback can be hurtful to others and cause unanticipated repercussions, either immediately or into the future. Therefore if you think that you’re going to have this type of reply, step away from your computer or other device whether it’s professional or personal. Remember social media has a social responsibility.
  8. Focus your efforts on a few specific topics. What’s your area of expertise? To get social media recognition, it helps to have a focus. Think about where you want to concentrate your efforts. Here’s an area where you can distinguish between professional and personal.
  9. Pitch in and help others. Social media isn’t a go-it-alone endeavor. It’s about the community and paying-it-forward. Think in terms of contributing to other people’s content such as by being a guest blogger. Also, use curation. (Of course, you shouldn’t take other people’s intellectual property and showcase it as yours.) This is more obvious on business or group blogs or sites.
  10. Develop your social media gang. It takes time to build a community. Approach social media person by person. Build your circles of friends and connections over time. (Check out this piece on influence of smaller circles.) Realize that you may not be able to distinguish between the professional and personal. People who connect with you as a professional on one platform may want to connect on another that you view as personal.

While many participants would like to separate their professional lives from their personal ones on social media platforms, it can be challenging to accomplish since there’s always someone you know through multiple connections. If in doubt, be more reserved about what you share.

How do you feel about professional versus personal profiles on social media? What do you recommend?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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