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Managing Personal vs. Professional Identity on Social Media

5 Min Read

Social media has grown at such a rapid pace that some people are still wondering how it fits into their lives. Many became active in social media on a personal level, only later realizing that it’s useful on a professional level as well. No matter how you are currently using social media, it can be leveraged to benefit you both personally and professionally.

Understanding the Professional vs. Personal Benefits of Social Networking

Being active on social media can benefit both your personal and professional purposes, provided you portray a work-safe image in your personal social presence. Many employers consider not only professional skillset, but also prospective employees’ hobbies and passions outside of work. Because of social media, people’s lives have become more transparent as work and professional boundaries have blurred. Many companies are embracing the value of learning about their employees’ personal lives and interests prior to making an offer to determine whether potential employees will be a good fit. As long as you are careful to not post inappropriate or offensive content on your personal social media accounts, allowing your personality and interests to shine through could help employers gain a glimpse into the unique individual you are and confirm how you might fit with a company’s culture.

Remember: Personal and Professional Accounts are Not Isolated

It’s perfectly acceptable to develop separate accounts for personal and professional uses. Many professionals open two accounts within the same social media site, one for each purpose. However, be aware that just because your colleagues are connected to you via a professional account only, there is still a chance they could find and view your personal account.

Depending on the privacy settings used, employers, coworkers, competitors, and others can access and view the posts of any social media account. In fact, 34 percent of employers admit to checking employees’ social media profiles, and not just the professional profiles on LinkedIn or Google+. Some social networks allow more than one profile per email address, while others do not, so check the rules of the particular site before creating a profile. Many professionals link their work emails to their business profiles and personal email accounts to their personal profiles.

Prospective employers can appreciate workers who have engaging personalities, and there is nothing harmful in liking or sharing personal items like family photos, insights, and news on your favorite entertainment or other personal interests. However, avoid extremist views or personal pictures that may portray you in an unprofessional light, including vacation photos in skimpy clothing or news items that express an extremist viewpoint. As a rule, avoid posting anything on social media, personally or professionally, that would be inappropriate for bosses, coworkers or the company’s clients to see. The Personal Branding Blog recommends an easy rule to remember when considering whether a post is appropriate – if you wouldn’t want your grandma to see it, you shouldn’t post it.

When Personal and Professional Identities Overlap

People used to be able to keep their professional and personal lives separate more easily, but today these two areas of life are increasingly melding into one, in part because of social media. Thus, before merging both professional and personal social media accounts, the pros and cons need to be weighed.

What is acceptable on a personal account that might be seen by professional connections? Consider how you want your brand identity to appear on social media. This brand has a personality, showcasing the television shows you like to watch, your hobbies, books you have read recently, and family pride. Let people know you are a full and rich person with a variety of interests.

Developing a brand identity involves creating an online persona that is multifaceted but would not stand in the way of a promotion, client relationship or a position with another company. You need to be constantly cognizant to lead with your best foot forward and communicate strategically, so anyone who views your profile will have the impression that you want them to have.

Learn to Leverage Social Media for a Cohesive Online Identity

Using one set of social media sites for all of your needs allows for simplicity. It will also make you more aware of everything you post. One concern about using both professional and personal social media accounts is the fear of accidentally posting a personal message to the professional account.

This is especially important for those employed as social media managers who post social updates for their company or client brands, for whom posting to the wrong account could cost them their job. A famous example of this was when a member of the KitchenAid social media team accidentally posted an offensive tweet about President Obama from the brand’s Twitter handle instead of his personal account during the 2012 presidential debate.

Accidental personal tweets by big brands have drawn a lot of press over the last few years, but some brands have tackled the mistakes head-on and creatively turned the mistakes into positive press.

For example, when the American Red Cross posted an inappropriate personal tweet about drinking Dogfish Head beer on the organization’s Twitter account, the brand quickly deleted the tweet and acknowledged it with a clever follow-up tweet: “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” This swift and good-humored action taken by the nonprofit’s communications team ultimately elicited a positive response from followers and led to distributors of Dogfish launching beer-for-blood campaigns offering free beer to patrons who donated blood.

Of course, avoiding any incendiary topics, inappropriate content or offensive posts is a surefire way to ensure you maintain a respectable image on any social profile, but communication training can help you to think quickly and overcome potential public relations disasters with finesse.

Queens University of Charlotte’s online Master’s in Communication program helps professionals understand how to leverage social tools and the latest communication theory to advance their personal and professional goals. Contact Queens University of Charlotte today to learn more about utilizing all communication platforms to their full potential, both personally and professionally.

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