Managing Your Personal and Professional Online Profiles

Considerations for Privacy & Juggling Your Personal and Professional Profiles

The increasing adoption of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn presents an interesting quandary for people who want to use social media for both personal (keep in touch with family and friends) and professional (network with colleagues) purposes. Do you juggle separate personal and business profiles for each of these networks? Or should you use one account that merges both your professional "brand" image and your personal life?

How you should use these social networks depends on your objectives and comfort with mixing business and personal information. The most important thing to remember is that even if you maintain separate personal and professional identities online, any information you share online can be made public or accessible to others.

Social Media: Privacy Matters (or Does It?)

The issue of privacy in social networking is a hot one. Some people, like Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, believe online privacy is an antiquated concept. Others, like Internet identity consultant Kaliya Hamlin, contend that when social networks like Facebook abruptly change their privacy policies to share your information with 3rd parties by default, it's a violation of the service's social contract with its users.

Whichever side of the debate you are on, it's critical to be aware of the implications of posting anything online ever, no matter what the context.

The safest thing is to just assume that anything you write or forward or add a comment to online will be seen by someone ... who may pass it along to someone else (willingly or unwittingly) ... whom you may not necessarily want to be sharing that information with. In other words, don't post anything on the Web that you wouldn't say in front of your boss or your mom.

(This goes especially for anything illegal, against corporate policy, or just plain embarrassing, as in this round-up of 12 people who lost their jobs, reputations, or freedom after posting dumb photos to the Web.)

Before using social networking sites to connect to colleagues or find a job by using social media, edit your profile information to make sure it only has information you want your boss, coworkers, clients, colleagues, and potential employers to see ... ever (because the Internet never forgets). Also review your privacy settings in Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks -- make sure you're comfortable with the information that's automatically being shared about you on the Web.

Managing Your Social Identities: One Profile or Separate Personal and Professional Accounts?

I don't mean to scare you. Social media is great for building and maintaining relationships online and sharing and finding information you might not get elsewhere. For professionals, social networks can open doors by connecting you to leaders in your field as well as coworkers at the office; you can also voice your opinion on important topics and be apprised of the latest news by joining the conversation in Twitter and other social networks.

If you want to get into or make the most use out of the social networking scene for both professional and personal reasons, you have a few options. You can use: one profile for both business and personal socializing, separate personal and professional accounts on each social network, or some services for personal use and some for business. Read on for a look at each of these options and tips on finding work-life balance with social media.

Social Networking Strategy #1: Use One Profile for All Social Media Networks

In this example you would have just one account or profile at, say, Facebook (and another at Twitter, etc.). When you update your status, add friends, or "like" new pages, this info will be visible to both your friends and professional contacts. You could write about anything -- from the very personal (my dog just destroyed my couch) to something more topical to your job (anyone know how to post a PowerPoint show online?).

Pros:

  • Simplicity; easiest method to use
  • Build a well-rounded online identity
  • Update all of your contacts at once

Cons:

  • Might cause you to be more reserved than you normally would be if you had a separate personal account
  • You might need to be more reserved -- your professional contacts probably don't care about your Facebook virtual farms and your friends may not care about the details of the conference you're attending

One way to channel messages specific or appropriate to different groups is to set up filters for your contacts so you can choose who will see the message when you post it.

Social Networking Strategy #2: Use Separate Personal and Professional Profiles

Set up a separate work-related account and another for personal use on each social networking site. When you want to post about work, log into your professional account and vice versa for personal social networking.

Pros:

  • Helps maintain work-life boundaries
  • Less fear of your colleagues or boss seeing personal details you may not want to share, so you may be more candid (keeping in mind the previous privacy warnings before, though -- namely, that privacy may not exist in social media anymore)
  • Messages from contacts will be more relevant to the account type (i.e., you'll see mostly work-related posts in the professional acocunt)

    Cons:

    • Can be tricky to maintain -- you need to be sure you are logged in to the right account before posting
    • Harder to see or share updates across all your contacts. Solution: Some programs, like TweetDeck solve this problem by allowing you to post from multiple accounts on multiple networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). You'll still need to be vigilant about which profiles you are posting to/from

    Social Networking Strategy #3: Use Separate Social Networking Services for Different Purposes

    Some people use Facebook for personal use but LinkedIn or other niche professional social networks for work use. Facebook, with its games, virtual gifts, and other fun but distracting apps may be more suited for general socializing. LinkedIn, meanwhile, has more of a professional focus, with networking groups for different industries and companies. Twitter is often used for both purposes.

    Pros:

    • Same benefits as maintaining separate personal and professional accounts on each network, but a bit less confusing. When you're in Facebook, you write about your life. When in LinkedIn, you can be all business.

    Cons:

    • Harder to share or see updates across all your contacts. Again, though, you can use applications to merge multiple accounts.

      Which Social Strategy Should You Use?

      If you want the simplest method and are not concerned about mixing your business and personal personas, just use one profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and/or other social networks. Many professional bloggers (e.g., Heather Armstrong, famous for being fired after writing very candid work-related posts on her personal blog, Anil Dash, Jason Kottke, and others) became famous because they developed strong, often outspoken, online identities where "followers" got a sense of both their personalities as well as their professional lives. You can use social media to develop that same kind of online singular identity.

      If you want to keep your work and personal lives separate, though, use either multiple accounts or different networks for different purposes. It can be more complex, but may be better for work-life balance.

      Other strategies for maintaining work-life balance with social networking:

      • Separate when you use social media according to your purpose: During the daytime, for example, only post professional or work-related updates to help you keep your focus on your job.
      • Remember to unplug or log off regularly and interact with people non-digitally in both your personal and professional worlds.