Managing personal & professional identities


Did a colleague, friend you on Facebook? Is your LinkedIn profile a resume? In our increasingly complex and overlapping information world, understanding how to balance personal and professional personas is critical. Do you struggle to manage your personal and professional identities on social media platforms and networking sites? 

I spoke to IBM‘s internal audience yesterday on the topic of ‘Managing personal & professional identities’ and shared my thoughts around the same. Credit goes to my colleague and friend Jeanette Fuccella for helping me structure the talk.

Managing Identities 2014 Khalid Raza SocialGlamor

We all represent multiple different personas. In our personal lives, we have relationships with family and friends; we have hobbies and interests, sports teams, and passions. Similarly, in our professional lives we have relationships with colleagues, interests, a job role, possibly a job that we aspire to, skills, organizational alliance, etc.

Sometimes these two worlds overlap and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they should, and sometimes they probably shouldn’t. While there aren’t too many hard and fast rules, there are some general rules of the road. We need to be cognizant of when we should keep our personal and professional identities separate and when to merge them. There are benefits and pitfalls either way but more importantly, we all have to make that decision for ourselves.

What is the answer?

Well, there’s no clear yes or no answer here, and what’s best for you really comes down to how much you want other, like a potential employer, to be able to find out about you. Now, plan this with exactly how strong your desire for privacy is, and you’ll know where to draw the line. There are some ramifications to going either way though, and a comfortable compromise in the middle may work best for you.

One way to draw the line is by social media property. For most people Facebook is personal, while LinkedIn is for professional use. You can either create two different profiles (e.g. one for work and one for your personal life). Also some properties like Google+ and now Facebook too, allow you to set up groups to restrict who sees what.

Is there a perfect way out?

Here are a few questions we should ask to get more clarity:

  1. How comfortable are you with being open? Some of us do not have a choice as we work in public under our own names, or because we prefer to be open with our comments and public interactions on the web. However, some of us just want to stay anonymous and unsearchable.
  2. Is there anything you don’t want someone to see? If you do not want others to know about your online activity, it makes sense to want to keep a separate presence for work. Assess your personal situation to decide what’s best for you.
  3. Can I post about my personal life and yet be professional? If you answered that with a yes, there should be little reason to keep completely separate online identities. Give yourself 10 seconds to carefully think over what you’re saying before you click ‘post’ on any site. See it from others’ (employer, colleagues, family etc) perspective and make sure you are ok with that.

It’s important to find your own personal sweet spot for your online identity. Use each of your different platforms and networks in a way that’s most comfortable and makes the most sense to you.

Pros to keeping your identities separate

  1. Privacy Settings – You can share whatever you feel like without worrying that anyone will see your posts (apart from your close friends) and yet ensure that your professional network remains as crisp as it can get
  2. Professional appearance – Your professional presence will be all about work hence there is image management at work
  3. Control – You would have control of what you wish to share. And your colleagues will not be bothered with where you are checking in and eating.

Cons to keeping your identities separate

  1. Extra work – You would have to maintain two separate accounts everywhere and that needs extra effort.
  2. Fake information – You would be required to provide fake information to create a separate account. Sometimes creating two identities is treated as providing false information by potential employers and law enforcement agencies. If one person can make two accounts, how can they be trusted for not making more!
  3. Divides the network – Your contacts and network will be split into two or more groups which adversely affects your digital image and mutual knowledge. You may find yourself excluding influential/powerful people who can help you because they’re friends or family. If you let them in on both profiles, however, it may defeat the whole point.

The bigger question remains, “How can you integrate both lives and yet stay professional?” That being said, it’s often a good best practice to allow a little bit of your “self” filter through your professional persona. It lets people know who you are and potentially connect you at a personal level.

Also, you may come across things from your professional life that you think people in your personal life might be interested in. I include entries from my travel adventures in my blog, but I categorize them separately so that my readers can choose whether or not they want to read those entries. Many social media properties allow you to integrate and promote your other profiles and properties. For example: One can link his WordPress blog directly onto his LinkedIn profile. We can also integrate our slideshare account, etc. via Applications. Also promote our blog via twitter or LinkedIn.

I would leave you to look at this image, which I clicked in Malaysia, to see how social networks have become critical to our lives, relations and careers. The world is getting smaller by the day. Now, would you wish to keep your worlds separate, or get them together as one. The choice lies with you.

Would you rather have two personas or have one open network? Reply below and share your views and also tell us why would you prefer one over another?

Edited by: Vanitha Poojary


13 thoughts on “Managing personal & professional identities

  1. Nice post Khalid. I always thought that personal and professional life presence in the digital world is a hard thing to define; to draw the line. Of course you should use each tool properly and with the right scope, but i was never one of those people who try to have different “apparences” on each social network (facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). Even if you’re socializing with a recruiter, a colleague, a new friend, a people who just met, a family member…at the end of the day you’re a regular person who has a job, haves fun, has complains, takes photos, likes music and read stuff.

    So how do I manage my digital “persona”? I follow some basic ground rules that comes with common sence regarding content, but after that I try to be myself, show me as I truly am, natural, authentic, and without trying to be someone I’m not. That can’t be bad, right? =) If it is, then is not a problem of the social media plattform, but yours.

    Cheers Khalid!


  2. Well you and I have the same way of dealing with the situation Mariano. I also believe that having multiple presence on each social media platforms is too much for me to manage. I rather focus on managing one identity per social media property.

    I felt I have more control and more united sphere. A perfect example is having you as my IBM colleague and also as an FB friend. Now when I meet you at work, virtually, I know that you just came back from your marathon and I could have a better connect with you. You would also know that my parents are around and would avoid pulling me into late night meetings….lol

    But on a wider level I feel it allows people to be who the are rather than be worried about being ‘nice’ at all the times, which is fake and difficult.


  3. Great blog post! I have been reevaluating how to manage my digital persona because I am involved in multiple companies and not just one company. You couldn’t be more right that multiple identities is a lot to manage. After reading your post I thought to myself who would be a good serial entrepreneur that is involved in multiple companies and how do they present themselves online. The first person that popped into my head was Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square. I studied his Twitter page and came away with some really good observations. Less is better and a good mix of personal and business content make his Twitter feed worth reading.

    The one social network that still has me confused is Google+. I use Facebook for personal and LinkedIn for business and Twitter for a good mix of personal and business. But Google+ still has me perplexed how to best use it because with multiple companies we have multiple email addresses therefore multiple Google+ profiles. On top of that I have a personal Gmail account. Should I use the personal Gmail account Google+ for everything or keep it separate. Any advice on how you have approached using Google+?


    1. Hi Mark, my fellow colleague Khalid asked me to drop by and share some further insights on your blog comment above and thought I would share a thought or two. I think your digital presence would pretty much depend on what you would want to get out of it and how you would want to make sense of it. Having a presence in multiple places and with multiple identities is probably just a bit too much asking for trouble. Better settle for what works for you, to meet your needs, figure out whether it would give you value and move on from there into execution. To me, as I have reflected on this blog post I decided to just focus on what I call “The Big Three”; 3 social networking tools where I hang out the most and where folks can find me any time. But it is still me, and my own personal that comes through each of them.

      A while ago I tried to have multiple personalities with different digital footprints and, over time, as it got more and more complex it became quite a challenge to manage, so I eventually decided to just stick with one, @elsua (Anywhere and everywhere!) and move along with it. Quite happy and a smart decision so far as it’s reduced plenty of the headaches from having multiple digital places to look into…

      About using Google Plus or not, you may want to have a look into a couple of articles that I have posted on the topic and how I make use of it (Although having a bit of a break at the moment, while I focus on other work related stuff…). Go here, then over here, to then head over to this blog post and, finally, this other one to perhaps figure out how you could get a tip or two that could help you move on …

      Hope that helps, Mark! Let us know what you think and how you would be progressing further with your unique digital footprint. We would love to know how you would be getting along!


  4. Multiple persona per social environment is too difficult so I subdivide my digital persona as follows;
    LinkedIn; Professional
    Facebook; Immediate family
    Twitter; Public (in the now)
    Google+; Public & interest groups where topics are more image & video rich.


    1. That is my mix too Ian, however I have not kept any limitation on my FB to include my office friends too. I am with IBM for a long time now and few of my best friends are from IBM hence the lines were blurring anyways. I also post most of the stuff publicly hence I keep it more open. LinkedIn gets all professional stuff and Twitter is for learning and knowing more. Do you keep FB guarded to ensure only immediate family gets in? #curious Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  5. Good Post. i would have one persona but could use different sites in different ways. e.g in FB ( i am not very active) i could have a big network mostly used for some light interactions and other sites one can be open to provide ones personal opinions and views on professional areas….Frankly have to be far more active than i am currently…But good to see you and some others very active….


    1. DP, I appreciate the fact that you have been trying to be active on social – which is the first step. A lot of our leaders feel uncomfortable to relinquish the power and continue to safe guard the hierarchical distance. But leaders like you are leading the change. Thank you for your perspective and taking out time to read the blog.
      Please share how use of social is helping you – would be interested to hear from a senior leader!


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