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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- Professional appearance – Your professional presence will be all about work hence there is image management at work
- 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
- Extra work – You would have to maintain two separate accounts everywhere and that needs extra effort.
- 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!
- 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