A few weeks ago, I discussed how Team Marcomm is conducting a pilot project on how personae can be used to better understand target our members. I promised a follow-up article. This is not that article. Instead, I’ll discuss tips on creating separate  personal and professional lives on your social media accounts.

Full disclosure: This essay is an update of something I wrote years ago when I was planning  to launch  a social media consulting firm. I ended up taking a full-time job instead, so the pile of articles I’d written to promote my firm gathered dust. I retrieved this one a few days ago after talking with someone at NHBA about professional images in the context of submitting “go-to” happy songs. Unfortunately, the article hadn’t aged well. I’ve tried hard to update it for changing times without sounding preachy.

Most people try hard to have a “professional” image:  competent, career-driven, accomplished.  Then there’s the less guarded persona we have around close friends and family, where we allow ourselves to be more vulnerable, open (and if you’re like me, occasionally even dorky). Even a decade ago, there may have been big differences between one’s public and private lives.  But the emergence and exponential growth of social media has changed all that. The technology that’s allowed us all to share anything we wanted with the world has also made us feel that we had to do just that. Talk about peer pressure, huh? And sometimes, there were consequences to “just being ourselves.”

So after more than 10 years, what have we learned from the school of hard knocks? How has the world changed since then (other than a pandemic, riots and murder hornets)? How important is it to keep your professional and personal profiles separate today, vs. five years ago? Should you (or ***must***you) revise your personal profile on Facebook to make it match your professional one on LinkedIn?  As I mentioned, I’ve been thinking a lot about these kinds of questions recently.  I have no definitive answers and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert at it,  but here’s what I’ve been mulling about.

Everyone has a personal brand (regardless of whether they wanted or intended to create one).  Years ago, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what kind of personal reputation I wanted to have online and whether that reputation was at odds with my professional persona.  These days, I couldn’t care less, unless I’m interviewing for a job or meeting someone for the first time. After all, people understand that the professionals with whom they interact have lives and interests outside the office. Personally, I love being able to Google someone and find that they share some of your interests and passions, that you have kids around the same age, or that you went to school in the same part of the country:  small talk and ice breaking  becomes so much easier. I also understand my  First Amendment rights to free speech and how employers can’t unreasonably restrict what their staff does/says on their own personal time or writes on their personal online presences. But because there are still consequences to what I post online, I try to be, well, “circumspect” in my postings. (Another full disclosure: sometimes, I fail miserably at having brain kick in before I type.)

You may need some reputation management triage. If you take only one thing away from this article, it should be this: categorize your Facebook contacts into lists. Take all your acquaintances, clients, and business associates – people who you want to see only your professional persona — and put them into a “restricted” category.  From now on, they only get to see a fraction of what the rest of Facebook sees.

Next, review your past posts for anything that might embarrass you professionally or is purely very personal.  Change their privacy settings to narrow down who gets to see them.  (Alternatively, you could just delete the posts: I “prune” my Facebook posts at least once a week.)

After that, adjust the privacy settings for future posts to further separate your work and personal life.   You can always manually adjust the setting when you share news that you want the whole world to see. Trust me on this: you’re going to sleep better at night knowing how well you’re curating your content.

Moving forward.  Most of us will never be social media “influencers” (or want to be one). But we still want to put our best foot forward.  Write a description of how you want people to see you online.  My list for personal posts includes adjectives like “quirky”, “funny”, “creative”, “generous”,  and “caring.”  I don’t need a list for my professional brand, because I try to stay in alignment with NHBA’s mission statement.  And really, we all got hired here because we’re “talented”, “competent”, “knowledgeable”, right?  When writing and posting, I use these descriptions to keep myself honest. (But truth be told, I’m a lot better at this when I’m writing for business.)

Your LinkedIn professional and Facebook personal profiles do NOT have to be “matchy-matchy”. First, photos: I give people enough credit to know that I don’t wear a suit to garden , volunteer, or attend a ball game. And that (most days, at least), I don’t wear monkey slippers to the office. Next, content: I enjoy scrolling my  Facebook feed and seeing pictures of my colleagues and business acquaintances hiking, biking, camping, and hugging their kids and pets. And I go to Linkedin to read their latest articles about organizational management and disruptive technologies. The various sites can and should be different.

Finally, consider and make the most of the difference between various types of social networks.  Not every LinkedIn update is appropriate for Facebook, just as every Twitter tweet isn’t appropriate for LinkedIn. (And let’s not even go into that TikTok dance challenge.)  Repeat after me: don’t tie your multiple accounts together. Learn the ins and outs of each platform and observe their culture. When you take the time to “learn the local language”, it become so much easier to create posts that engage, inform, and entertain.

What are your best tips for expressing yourself online without compromising your professional reputation?

~ Lynne Sabean