Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Oh My! There are thousands of social networking sites today that enable you to create, and maintain, a personal space online. This ability allows us to reconnect with old friends, stay on top of what friends and family are doing, and learn more about topics of interest.
While this level of Internet interaction is exciting and generally beneficial, blending personal and professional contacts into the same social networking identities can be problematic. For better or worse, the way you are around your friends and family is different than the way you are around people you know through work. And while your best friend from college will be excited you saw U2 (Coldplay, Green Day, whomever) last Wednesday night, the client you have a meeting with on Thursday probably won’t be as thrilled.
Even more complications arise when you use social media to promote a social or political view. Most likely, your friends share similar views as you do on areas that matter most to you. But can you say for sure that your professional contacts do as well? You might want to believe that if your views aren’t the same, they will appreciate your opinion, or better yet, that they have to take you for what you are. But that’s naïve. They don’t have to take you for who you are, especially in today’s job market that features a dozen people just like you in your own zip code.
What’s the answer? Maintain a healthy separation between your personal and professional online identiies. Use different profiles to connect with friends and business contacts, or segment your contacts into categories that are relevant to how you know them. When you have something to share that might interest your business friends-- post to that group or profile. When you finally manage to get Aunt Pearl to share her brownie recipe, keep that info private to friends and family.
Let’s face it-- business is about putting your best foot forward. In today’s globally-connected marketplace, that first step might be online. With that in mind, it is critical that the professional image you create on social networks is the one that represents you in the best possible light and is the one your company, partners, customers, potential customers and influencers will want to be associated with when the relationship moves from online to in person.