Should We Keep Professional and Personal Separate in Social Networking

When it comes to social networking utilities, should there be a line in the sand on whether it’s for personal contacts or professional connections? That’s what I’ve been struggling with of late.

Maybe I should share with you what first made this question come to mind for me. When I joined facebook a while back, I “friended” a lot of coworkers, some of whom I am friends with outside of work and some of whom I am acquaintances with at work.

About a month ago, one of my coworkers that I’m acquaintances with had a major event happen in her personal life, which I found out about through facebook. She’s nice. We say “hi” to each other. But this is something I don’t believe she would have told me in passing. We’re not close enough. Now, you could say that she shared it on facebook, so she must not have minded telling everyone. But I still felt weird finding out about it that way.

I also had a couple clients friend me recently on facebook and it made me a little uneasy. Not that I put things on there that are crazy and kooky. Just the normal stuff like photos of my beautiful family, friends writing funny things on my wall, etc. But what if one of those funny groups I joined to laugh about with friends isn’t seen as funny by a client. Things that people know about in our personal lives that they wouldn’t have known about pre-social networking can color their opinions of us in our professional lives.

That’s my concern. So I decided to save facebook for my personal contacts and Linkedin and twitter for my professional connections. But I’ve noticed lately that a lot of fellow bloggers whom I respect have links to their facebook pages on their blogs. Folks like Chris Brogan, Mack Collier and Lara Kretler.

Should I rethink my assessment? Am I going about it the wrong way? Am I missing out on great exchange by not opening up facebook to professional contacts as well? What do you think?

(Click here to read My Verdict on Keeping Professional and Personal Separate.)

*image credit – facebook.com

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19 responses to “Should We Keep Professional and Personal Separate in Social Networking

  1. David, great post about questions being faced by so many of us. By the way, I just had to pick myself up off the floor after seeing my name in the company of the esteemed Chris Brogan and Mack Collier. Thank you and your check is in the mail!

    I’ve battled with the personal vs. professional issue too, and I landed on the side of striving to make my personal side a bit more professional. It’s a slightly fuzzy area, but this is what I’m shooting for. I keep my LinkedIn strictly professional, but on Twitter or Facebook or other social networks, I do let my “personal” side show through a bit more. I don’t think my current or future employers or colleagues would want me to be a professional robot 24/7 – they want to see a well rounded employee with good work/life balance and fun, interesting hobbies. So I’ve tried to unite my professional and personal sides into one online persona that represents the real me. However, I’ve also tried to keep things business-friendly and appropriate at all times, if that makes sense.

    For example, I’m still favorite-ing youtube videos I like that may be silly and not necessarily professional (like Charlie the Unicorn, or funny animal tricks) – but I’m not adding any that could be considered inappopriate or unprofessional, because I know people, including business contacts, can see those links through FriendFeed and Facebook. This is hard and I need to constantly keep it top of mind because I happen to like gangsta rap and sometimes I want to share it! I do have an old myspace profile which is very separate from all the other things I do in the social media space, and that’s where I do occasionally still share a questionable rap video or two.

    I can’t help it. Everyone has vices. 🙂

  2. No check necessary! Your insights are valuable enough.

    I see what you’re saying. And agree that professional folks enjoy working with well-rounded people. It’s not like I don’t talk about my family or personal interests with colleagues and clients, so that makes sense.

    I could be even more selective in what I might post/add/etc. to facebook, although it would entail having to pass on some fun stuff among friends. Which I guess is the question. Can’t some things just be among friends?

    The concern is that items on facebook like groups, affiliations and others that highlight stances on politics, religion, etc. may cause a professional contact to look at you a bit differently. It shouldn’t be the case, but we’re humans and don’t live in a perfect world. We make presumptions about people, whether right or wrong.

    Maybe it comes down to the fundamental question of what you want to use each application for on an ongoing basis.

  3. Here’s how I see it: Susan Iskiwitch is a brand. Brands transcend their outlets. Every social media tool I use needs to fit the brand of Susan. While I use Facebook primarily for friends, I have no reservations accepting a request from a colleague or business partner. It’s hard to have any hidden agendas online, so why not make every outlet work for my reputation?

  4. Your question is interesting and provocative–I lean to the side of separation. I like some mystery–on both sides of the equation.

    I think it is really about how you want to “brand” yourself and the types of friends you want to share your life with (personal and professional). People are more complex than a single label can explain, and it takes time and effort, and real friendship/interest, to get to know their complexities. I think misc. intimate/personal postings can give people, who do not really know the “whole” you, an excuse/opportunity to think of you in a single dimensional way (which may or may not work to your advantage).

    I also think about the issue of Caching–and wonder about how much of a problem it may pose? What you share today may be in great contrast to how you feel about sharing it tomorrow. Nowadays, Google is the main entity you deal with when it comes to cached information. And to date, Google has been pretty good about removing material within a certain number of days when requested (but it doesn’t just stop with Google others may have picked it up as well). So, if you post something on Facebook, to just to be funny,to make a point, to just be crude w/friends or to share an intimate/emotional detail about your life, even if you take it down or change it, it could remain accessible to the rest of the world on the Internet for a very, very long time.

  5. Susan and Jane – Thanks for taking time to comment! You both bring up interesting points.

  6. David, here’s the answer I left you on Linkedin:
    I think in many respects it’s OK to let everyone know not only what you do, but who you are. Relationships, both personal and professional, are built on trust, which often involves revealing apsects of ourselves that make us human and make us more interesting. I’m not sure it’s so much about keeping professional and personal separate as it is managing your public versus more private personna. Sharing images or information with close friends doesn’t require posting it for the world to see. Consider what you post using social media tools to be like a tattoo. Think of it as permanent – something you’ll be just as happy with 10 years from now as you are today. Everyone thinks of it differently, but that’s my approach.

  7. My take: they’re the same thing. I’m still a person when I’m at work. : )

  8. Leo and Chris – thanks for your insights.

    Leo – Funny that you mention the tattoo analogy. I have a tattoo that I got in 1998 – exactly 10 years ago – and I’m not as happy with it as I was then. How’s that for coincidence. 🙂

  9. I’m struggling with the same thing lately. I’m only 23 and I’m having a hard time embracing my new professional side. Many of my friends are still in college and posting pictures from my senior year where… let’s just say I’m not in the most professional of situations. Those theme parties aren’t half as hilarious anymore as they are just embarrassing now! I recently started a blog about my transition to the professional side in case you get a chance to read it and leave a comment! I wrote about something extremely similar yesterday.
    http://www.catalysta.wordpress.com

    I work with Lara and she tries to keep me optimisitic and on the right track. But I’m starting to feel that it might be necessary for me to grow up a bit and relinquish my college self- even if it was only a year ago! But that would include a major overhaul of pictures, comments, and profile updating.

    I’m with you on the struggle but I think I’ve come to a conclusion that like Chris Brogan said, I’m still a person a work. So I think it’s a matter of being a likable, trustable person in the workplace and that will be reflected in your social media outlets. Coworkers and clients are people too and they have embarrassing stuff too! As long as you don’t go posting your deepest, darkest secrets and you know that what you say is visible to all… I say it’s fine.
    Good luck! Thanks for the good read!

  10. Megan – that’s definitely a tricky place for you, since the bulk of your prior facebook use has probably been among college friends and you haven’t had to worry about what professional contacts think about something. That’s why I shared this post with our summer interns, both of whom just graduated and are looking for full-time jobs after this summer. It’s something recent college grads should put some thought into, for sure. What if one of your friends “tags” you in an embarrassing photo that shows up in all your contacts news feeds? Guess you’ll have to make sure those privacy settings are beefed up and in place! 🙂

  11. I think in the age of Google, the only choice we have is either to put personally revealing information on the Internet or not. But keeping personal and professional information separate? That’s not a choice anymore.

    I suspect in the next few years we all may become a little more tolerant of each other, and used to finding out things about professional acquaintances that 10 years ago would have been secrets. Times change. When I started working professionally, about 15 years ago, very few people wore jeans to work. Now, I can think of at least a couple CEOs of Fortune 500 companies that don’t think twice about wearing jeans. Our business culture will adapt.

  12. There’s no way I’d invite a client to be one of my facebook friends. I don’t have necessarily have anything to hide but they don’t need to know that many details about my life.

    I can’t help but invite co-workers to be my “friends”. Heck, if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have much of a social life here in Winston. Many of the photos I have online are with them and frankly, what you see is what you get with me. I’m pretty much the same person inside the 4 walls of work as I am socially.

    Great blog entry though. I loved the conversation we had today at the office about it. The whole thing can be scary if you think about it hard enough!

  13. I realized that the line between business and personal was pretty much hopeless when I launched The Lactivist a few years back. There’s a lot of crossover between the readers at that site (my blog about parenting, birth, breastfeeding etc…) and at my work site, Search Engine Guide.

    You know what’s interesting though? How many people now approach me at conferences because they’ve read the Lactivist and they can relate to me on a personal level.

    I would never have dreamed breastfeeding would be an ice breaker in a business environment, but it is. Even with the men.

    Since that happened, I’ve kind of given up and live both lives together online. My twitter stream has my insights on social media and search marketing, but it also has my debates on home birth rights and a log of my saturday cooking sprees.

    People do business with people, not companies. Yes, I am my brand, but part of my brand is who I am in my every day life. If someone has a problem with that, they probably don’t need to be doing business with me.

  14. Great point, Jennifer. My only concern is that though breastfeeding might be a slightly awkward topic- it surely isn’t frowned upon by people. The issue I’m having is when maybe your not so lovely and mostly just awfully embarrassing moments displayed all over the internet for my coworkers to see. NOT the reputation I want. So does that mean I just can’t go out and do that stuff anymore? My friends are going to take those pictures and sure I can ask them to not tag them or post them… but they probably will because that’s just what you do now. The age of the digital camera is wonderful/terrible all at the same time!
    I think however, that as time goes on, companies are going to have to start being a bit more lenient on their newbies entering into the professional world. With these social media outlets happening and kids as young as middle schoolers having profiles- clearly the floodgate has been opened and we all have to accommodate a bit more. These outlets have never available before and it’s a little scary to think that what was perfectly acceptable and normal in college could affect your professional life or the potential to get hired and keep your job! Employers never used to have the option of seeing these personal pictures or things plastered all over a very easily accessible place. So I guess the question is how much should you keep private and how much do clients/employers have to allow for leniency with this new media world?

  15. Catalysta, you’re so right about middle schoolers being online. I was shocked to find out the 8th graders I interact with through Big Brothers Big Sisters Project Mentor are all on Facebook and Myspace. I wonder if their parents know. I have my goddaughter on my friends list and sometimes I’m shocked at the things she posts. Maybe it’s a good thing I went to school before all of this web2.0 stuff exploded, even if it does make me old as the hills. 😉

  16. I prefer to blend the social with the professional. I have put a lot of thought into this topic…it seems to me that with work and the workplace lines blurring so much with our personal lives, it will become natural to aggregate contacts from both spaces. If you look at how commonplace flex-time and working from home are becoming for example…the workday has now been inter-mingled with personal time. How often do you log onto your work email from home? I check my Facebook and LinkedIn pages all the time from my company laptop and use those networking resources to contact prospective employees since it’s an easy way to contact them without using their work address. I tend to think it is the least invasive approach.

    Besides, if people are judging you for having a good time at a costume party, they may not be the kind of people you want to work with anyway! This is the age of information sharing, and everything about a person can be found on the internet by a savvy researcher so we may as well embrace the transparency. Since my job is in talent development, I like to show the people I interact with that I am a human being, rather than just a stodgy old curmudgeon recruiter cold calling them at the office with a “great opportunity.” Just my two cents!!

  17. First of all D-Mu, I’m proud to call you my facebook friend, because you are a cool guy with ALWAYS interesting input/slant on a story.

    Secondly, I’m proud of you for jumping on the social media project, and from my limited view, you are silly good at what you do.

    And (c), I’d say the more you are yourself at work, the more comfortable you are going to feel mixing the two worlds. It’s a challenge to be myself at work, because I have to be a nerd. And isn’t it so easy to completely make an ass out of yourself on-line…I mean I have a hard enough time as it is in my neighborhood or at my church. Most of this is generational and depends obviously on the nature of the profession, and its definition of “professionalism” and commitment to an image/persona for particular clients. The question for me…what is more important…being myself or protecting my reputation. That hits me where it hurts.

  18. David, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I had this topic on my short-list for blogging, and I’ll definitely link to you when I finish my post. As a college professor, I am continually surprised at the transparency of many of my students. What I’m concerned about is what others are adding to their Facebook pages about them, rather than what they are posting themselves. It’s smart for all of us to check to see what photos we’re tagged in, what others have written on our walls, etc. And as a professor, when students ask me to be their friend, I always say yes. (I never initiate the friending.) I make it a point to let my classes know that I have chosen not to look through their photos nor read their walls. There are some things I just don’t want/need to know.

  19. Pingback: Navigating social networks with your students : Online Blogucation

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