Are you a professional or college student about to graduate who also uses social media on a personal level? If so, you’re undoubtedly likely aware of the fact that employers are searching for information about both your professional and personal background through your presence on social media networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, your blog, and even what is publicly available on Facebook. Unless you have created multiple profiles, you likely use one profile on each social network to represent yourself — perhaps even associating your profiles with your full, real name.
But what happens after you get that job of your dreams, or when your clients find your personal Twitter account? Some social media networks do choose the option to create multiple social media accounts to clearly separate their personal from their professional identities. Most others, however, choose to balance their personal and professional lives using only one social media account per network. This does not necessarily mean deciding which tweet or Facebook post is a “personal” post or a “professional” post. Instead, balancing your personal and professional lives using social media means doing what’s in the best interests of yourself personally and professionally, both for your career and your employer (if you have one). Here are a few things you should definitely do, and definitely not do, if you need to balance your personal and professional life using social media.
Reveal something about yourself personally.
If you are using one or more of the “big” social networks to represent yourself both professionally or personally, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+, you will want to be sure to strike a balance between sharing information and updates related to your profession and professional life, but also updates that reveal interesting information about yourself. On his blog, Jay Baer explains that an update about going to Subway to eat is not an interesting update to read. However, if you want to reveal something about yourself that is interesting to those who know you both professionally and personally, saying you “Went to Subway today. Had the veggie sub. On day 23 of vegetarian conversion” is valid in terms of an update that reveals something personal, yet maintains a balance with your professional life.
You’ve likely heard of the Golden Rule, which essentially states that you should treat others as you wish to be treated. This idea can be found rooted in multiple religions, but is a great way to approach your use of social media — especially if you’re trying to maintain a positive relationship with people in both a personal and professional context. If you treat others in a negative manner online, this can negatively impact your reputation and how others perceive you, which can cost you friendships, future jobs with current clients, and even your career.
Only share what’s comfortable.
While you should definitely strive to be as transparent as possible and share what’s true and accurate about your professional and personal life, you don’t need to share information that you don’t feel comfortable telling the world about, such as information about your family. Some well-known social media users share information about their kids, pregnancies, or even their marriage, while also using their Twitter or Facebook account to share their expertise and connect with other professionals. You may choose to use your social media to share these details — or not; as you strike the balance between your professional and personal life while using social media, you are free to define how comfortable you are with sharing personal details. Keep in mind that the more personal details you provide, the more you open yourself up to conversations and feedback about your personal and professional choices, which can often require more time and attention to respond to these comments, which can occasionally arise as criticism, too.
The most important thing to consider when using one social media account to represent both your personal and professional life is to only share what you own and are empowered to share. For example, if your significant other has asked you not to share details about your relationship online for your colleagues to read, be sure to respect that decision. Likewise, if your employer has asked you not to leak upcoming products or announcements or talk about other internal processes using social media, be sure you only share that information when given the green light. Most of this is common sense, but if you aren’t sure someone in your personal or professional life is OK with you sharing information about them or the company using your social media account, consider asking them for permission first.
Use social media to gossip.
Just as you should own the content you share using your social media account, it is best to not use social media to gossip when attempting to balance your personal and professional social lives using social media. While your friends may use Facebook or Twitter in this way, they may not be thinking about the impact that this could have on their career in the future (if it ever does). Gossiping about your coworkers on Twitter when your Twitter account is recognized by your clients or even your employer could severely jeopardize not only your current state of employment, but your ability to continue with your career. At the least, it could negatively impact your relationship with your coworkers and others in your industry. If you can’t say something nice, at least share your thoughts via a medium that is not public — and can’t be easily shared to the public via copy and paste, either. (Or, you know, don’t say it all.)
While you should always strive to be nice, consider going one step beyond treating others online well and avoiding sharing anything negative. I generally avoid sensitive issues that may imply I have a “negative” view on politics, religion, healthcare, or other topics. While I definitely have strong beliefs, sharing these with my nearly 6,000 Twitter followers only jeopardizes potential business relationships — and angers friends that I’d rather talk about these topics with at more length than in 140 character chunks. Additionally, having a negative attitude in general will definitely not attract new clients, employers, friends, or followers. This is true of people in real life, and easily applies to your “life” on social media as well, whether personally or professionally.
Ignore something you said in error.
It’s easy to say something wrong on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks. However, if you’re using social media to represent both your personal and professional lives, be sure not to ignore something you said in error — or otherwise decide to abandon your account entirely as a result of some backlash like Ashton Kutcher did last year. We all make mistakes, and usually an apology and explanation is sufficient, whether online or offline. Also, be sure to thank whomever discovered your error and pointed to the correct stats or original source. This is a great opportunity to develop not only stronger relationships, but demonstrate to your colleagues, friends, and other followers that you possess honorable traits like humility and appreciation for teamwork.
Be sterile, or share TMI, either.
One of the most challenging aspects of trying to balance your personal and professional life using social media is finding the place between sharing only interesting information and sharing too much information about your personal and professional life. Tying all the previous advice together, you should be able to define what information you are comfortable sharing and what you are allowed to share, as well as what type of tone your social media accounts carry. Obviously, this means auto-sharing links from your RSS feed falls into the category of being “too sterile,” yet sharing minute-by-minute details about activity at the office is TMI (too much information). Using your social media account to share what’s interesting, what you own, and what is positive will automatically help you achieve this balance between being too sterile and sharing TMI.
Do you use social media to represent yourself both personally and professionally? If so, how do you strike a balance between the two? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.