First Rule of Knowledge Workers: The Professional is Personal

One common theme I hear from “social media experts” is to make sure and keep your personal business out of the professional image you create for yourself online. Many people have come to interpret that as keeping separate profiles for their personal life and their professional life. This could be a mistake.

Typically the argument goes something like this, “I have a LinkedIn profile for work, but just use Facebook for my friends, I’d never talk about work on Facebook.”

Whenever I see someone say this, I often wonder if this person somehow never mentions what he/she does, or shares any stories about their work at friend and family gatherings. Do the people you see on the weekends even know what you do for a living? If, for example, you’re a lawyer, and a friend of yours needed a good lawyer, would they even know to approach you? If they did, would you turn down their business, or not make a referral for them because you “don’t like to mix my professional life with my personal life”.

On the flip side, when a coworker invites you and your spouse out to dinner, or to a cookout, do you refuse, because you don’t mix friendship with business? Would you go by yourself, as a “work” outing, but not bring your spouse, or your kids, because these are not “friends”.

This seems somewhat ridiculous, but isn’t this the real life version of what you’re doing with the “split” profiles? So what if you do have one professional social network profile and one personal, when a friend wants to connect with you on LinkedIn, do you refuse? When a coworker wants to friend you on Facebook? What about when a supervisor wants to friend you on Facebook, when you tell her that you can’t do that, that Facebook is only your personal profile, is she left to assume that is because you’re doing things on Facebook that you don’t want your company associated with, things the company would not be happy about?

Over the years, the demand for knowledge workers to be available, and willing, to put in more hours, and be tethered to blackberry’s, etc. has grown. On top of that, kids are involved in far more activities that keep their parents on the go constantly, and the amount of social time we have for ourselves has dwindled. Is it any wonder why so many people are getting romantically involved with people they work with, or developing friendships in the workplace? These are the people we see more of than our own families in many cases.

Also, as the business environment has gotten more and more competitive, we’ve turned to our connections, any connections, to develop business leads, or learn about new job opportunities, etc. No one in their right mind would ignore a business or professional networking lead just because it came from another parent at a Little League game as opposed to our workplace contacts.

Similarly, when you are attending a business networking event, not every conversation is going to be about your business. Sometimes the best customers, or the best sources of assistance in your career, are the people you can talk College Football with, sharing some common ground before getting around to doing business together.

Now, does this mean that you should be sharing every little detail of your personal life with your business contacts? No, I wouldn’t advise that. What I would advise is that if there are details of your life that will cause you embarrassment in professional circles, maybe online isn’t the place to be sharing them, regardless of how personal or professional you might consider the environment. Both Facebook and LinkedIn are still pretty public, so you want to be careful about what those photos, quizzes, status messages, etc. are saying about you, professionally and personally, because you are still you, at the office, or at the club.

Full disclosure: I met my wife at work. We worked in the same office, right down the hall from each other for all of our dating relationship, engagement, and the first year+ of marriage. Obviously, I have benefited greatly from allowing myself the freedom to mix my work life with my personal life, and may be biased in favor of that.

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  1. It's hard to disagree with anything you wrote. But I understand the "experts" point of view as well. You've made yourself an Internet celebrity (for lack of a better term) and you cannot do that without giving insight into who you are as a person.
    But for the lawyer whose sole goal with social media is business development,
    veering off the legal services message dillutes the marketing. Many political posts may alienate those who disagree. Many posts about hobbies may lose part of your intended audience who is interested only in your legal areas of expertise.
    Having a fully formed online persona is great for many netizens. But if your only social media goal is marketing your law practice, a different approach may be best.

  2. Jim,

    You bring up an interesting perspective, one that I don't necessarily is different from what I'm saying above, just not the viewpoint I chose. You're right, if you are looking to social networking as a business development tool, you do have to keep it somewhat on the professional level, which actually fits into my premise that the personal and professional lines are blurred. Anyone who is posting embarrassing information about themselves, or political rants, runs the risk of alienating a great many people, loosing connections and possibilities through those connections as opposed to making them.

    On the other hand, if you view online networking as an extension of in-person networking events, at an in-person networking event, say a local chamber of commerce event, you do veer off into talking about sports, your kids, the weather, etc. It's all part of the game, if you will, of making connections with people that help them feel comfortable about you as a person, and as a lawyer.

    So, if your sole goal is business development, surely the balance between personal and professional is going to be different than mine, but they will both still be present to some extent.

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