How do you keep your professional and personal social media activity separate?
The answer? You don’t.
Why? Because you can’t.
It’s all one big blend. It’s the way we live our lives today. What’s personal is professional, and vice versa.
It’s similar to the way that external and internal communications in corporations used to be separate spheres. There was a sharp dividing line between them. But now, what’s internal is also external. The lines have been blurring for quite some time.
In my own life, I used to draw a dividing line. I tried to limit Facebook to friends and family. If colleagues sent me a friend request, I steered them to LinkedIn.
But some people defied categorization. How about the person I worked with who was also involved with our community’s education foundation? Were they a professional or personal contact? In reality, they were both.
And some content I want to share with professional and personal contacts. As an avid reader, I get asked by people in both spheres about what I’m reading. Rather than spam people with article links in emails or texts, I share content in Twitter. People can opt in if they want by following me.
A good framework for personal and professional social media strategies appeared in Harvard Business Review.
Ariane Ollier-Malaterre and Nancy Rothbard researched how professionals use social media, noting that many “felt compelled to accept friend requests from professional contacts.” From their work, they identified four potential social media strategies.
- Open. You post whatever comes to mind. No filters. Not surprisingly, this is a high-risk strategy and is not advised.
- Audience. You keep your networks separate, as I used to do with friends and family in Facebook and colleagues in LinkedIn. This works for a while. But it increasingly becomes impossible to maintain as networks become more fluid.
- Custom. You post content to two different audience lists and/or on different accounts on the same platform. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands or retain an agency to manage your social media, this isn’t a sustainable strategy.
- Content. You post content that is appropriate for all audiences, similar to a G- or PG-rated film. In our increasingly blended world, this is an ideal strategy. You’re consistent and efficient in how you connect across the personal and professional.
The authors recommend the custom or content strategies. While the custom strategy sounds good in theory, it’s too cumbersome for real life, with the time constraints we all face. Try it if you dare, but my bet is that you’ll end up with the much more practical content strategy.
You can make your life easier and more satisfying by blending your social media approach with the content strategy. This requires acting consistently with integrity, class and style in whatever you do. And isn’t that part of living a good life?
What if you want to vent or share something snarky in social media? You have two options, if your professional and personal reputation is important to you.
The first is something we probably all heard from our parents – if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. The second is to keep it to real life, in a face-to-face setting.
It’s important to be thoughtful not only about the content you post, but also the content you share and the content you like. The aggregate of this activity reflects on you just as much as original content you create and post.
This is all part of what it means to act with social savvy in our ever-evolving world.
What strategies work for you in addressing the personal and professional aspects of social media?