Social Media – The Personal or Private Conundrum…

Do you use social media for professional reasons? Do you try to keep your personal life separate? How’s that going for you?

The longer I work around and with social media for myself – and for my clients – the more obvious it is becoming to me that it’s incredibly difficult to separate personal and professional on platforms. Just as it is in life.

Why? Social media is not ‘business’ or ‘broadcast’ media. It’s ‘social’ it’s all about people and, as I’ve said many times before, it comes with all of the nuances, highs and lows that surround the interaction of human beings. Also these are private companies which connect people who have points of connection such as:

*where they live
*their schools
*their hobbies
*their interests
*their passions
*their professions
*their jobs
*their businesses

These platforms are not in the business of separation – that bit is up to the users. This is particularly true of Facebook. The biggest social media platform in the world at time of writing.

One thing which comes up quite regularly on Facebook in particular is the ‘this is personal’ and ‘this is professional’ scenario. I’ve encountered with people who want to keep their business separate from their personal life and with celebrities who want a big audience to look at their celebrity persona and then a very small audience to look at their private persona.

I even tried to do this myself in the early days of my business but it simply doesn’t work. Sooner or later Facebook itself learns that the professional ‘you’ is connected to the personal ‘you’ and it will connect you with yourself and also with any other mutual connections with shared interests or connections.

Then you try to turn away people that you deem suitable for one persona and not your other persona – and people get cross about that. Suddenly out of the blue, this innate need that some people have to separate their life into neat little compartments simply implodes. And it’s usually really emotional and unsettling all around. Why? Social media has the same emotional effect as if these interactions where happening in the real world and face to face. It’s that simple.

How would you feel at an event if someone said to you: “I’m really sorry at this event you are not a suitable connection – however if you meet me next week at that event we’ll connect?”

After having that experience more than once I realised that I had to make a decision – was social media about me as a professional? Or me as a rounded human being who is multi-faceted and also professional? I embraced myself fully and I don’t try to be multiple things to distinct and separate audiences on social media. Facebook doesn’t view me in that way and if I don’t like it, I can go elsewhere.

I do have a business page which I post on daily however it’s clearly linked to me and I do make very clear decisions what I post about my personal life on my personal profile – if I’m unsure I simply don’t post about it. I also post a lot less on my personal page than on my business page because for me it’s mostly about business.

By adopting this strategy, those who are connected with me can dip in and out of my various ‘spaces’ on Facebook. It’s about their choice and not mine. They can make a decision where they engage with me.

So how might this conundrum show up in your behaviour, or the behaviour of others, on Facebook?

*You decide that you only want personal friends or family to follow you on Facebook. So when someone you’ve met professionally sends you a friendship request you tell them that you only connect with friends & family on here and would they like to connect with you on LinkedIn instead? How many actually do this? Some will be happy to. Many will not bother at all. Why? You’ve actually told them they are not suitable to be your friend. They often won’t make the distinction that you have and now they feel differently about you and it’s negative. They will understand intellectually however emotionally they will feel slighted and they simply won’t bother with you.

*You decide you will have a professional name and a private name (often this might be maiden and married names) and you’ll keep the two separate. You may feel you want to protect the identity of your children in some way, or you may be quite well known in certain circles but want to keep those circles spinning separately. This will NEVER work. In order for it to work you would have to keep explaining ‘your rules’ to new connections in your private sphere and then expect them to remember those ‘rules’ of your’s when they might themselves have 1000s of connections. Sooner or later one of them will make a mistake which will connect your separate lives – albeit inadvertently – and you will blame them. When in fact the fault is your’s. It shows a lack of understanding of how Facebook works – it works its way not your way. It shows a lack of understanding that human beings don’t generally separate people into different personas. Trying to do this is like trying to knit yoghurt. Do you want an audience or not? Fan clubs think they are VIPs and to find out you don’t see them like that – well that will have a negative impact on you and them.

*You have a rather colourful life – I’ve encountered this a few times – where your professional life doesn’t necessarily align to your personal life. This can come up in various ways, you may have a group of private friends who are outspoken, opinionated and swear a lot and you don’t want them to mix with your professional circle. You may have a private life which is a bit unusual and you want to keep the two separate – hence I was once befriended by a florist called Fiona (I’m not kidding) and then a few days later I was offered another connection of Foxy Fiona (same person, interesting clothing which suggested certain things). I laughed about it but many people would not.

How do you deal with this?

1. Make a decision – what’s the primary function of Facebook in your life? If it’s personal connection and not business or professional, keep it personal and be that person on Facebook. Don’t try to separate your audience into neat little groups. Don’t send messages explaining how someone is not a suitable connection – just delete the friend request. Facebook will not make that distinction. If for you it’s an important business tool, then treat it as such and keep your personal life, your children and other personal matters off the platform. Or find a balance that suits you but keep business in the forefront of your mind.

2. Don’t try to make others follow your rules – other people don’t care what your ‘inner’ rules are and you cannot expect them to remember or know what your inner rules are. Facebook friends tend not to be your besties, they tend to be acquaintances. If you are not being authentic in your purpose on Facebook, don’t expect others to obey ‘your rules’. As long as what they post meets Facebook’s rules and the law itself, there’s nothing you can do about it. The only place where you can have ‘your rules’ on Facebook are in groups that you control and even then you have to monitor the rules and act when they are not followed.

3. If something goes wrong out of the blue – and you feel it’s someone else’s fault – think carefully what role you may have played in this. Have you tried to separate your life and are you just ‘expecting’ that an acquaintance will know that? Do you really understand how Facebook works and that things can happen that are not another person’s fault? For example, tagging of photographs? Anyone can tag a photograph, it may not be the person who posted it.

4. Block people quietly. If you feel someone has been out of order, even if they’ve apologised because you’ve made them aware, think about your purpose on Facebook – does this connection help serve your purpose? If not just quietly block them or mute them. One person who feels angry or slighted can damage your professional reputation over and over again with comments here and there. I’ve seen this with one presenter I’ve worked with in the past and this person had to constantly explain over about a two year period why this other person was showing up regularly saying unpleasant things about him and his business. People who use Facebook professionally block or mute all of the time. Making a song and dance about it simply spreads bad feeling and increases your risk of being damaged by it. Emotional responses last much longer don’t forget.

5. Does your professional reputation matter on Facebook? If it does then how you behave really matters, regardless of the rights or wrongs of any situation. Take any angst or bad feeling offline and deal with it privately and show kindness and authenticity where possible. Being a diva, complaining to others about something which actually shows your ignorance and unreasonable behaviour, will damage your professional reputation in the long run. If you try to hurt others due to an imagined slight by taking your anger from Facebook and into the real world, you may indeed cause damage to another’s reputation. However consider the long term damage to your own reputation? Who in the hell wants to work with someone professionally who moans and whinges and throws their toys out of the pram due to something which has happened on social media which is not illegal, not indecent and not against the platform’s rules. You could be slowly writing your own P45…