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The perils of mixing personal and professional on social media



ohSgCM0_stariSob_rgbstockIf I checked out your social media accounts today, what would I find? Personal updates? Professional updates? A mix of the two? Is there even a dividing line between your personal life and professional life? If you are your business that line doesn’t even exist. I struggle with this concept daily as I try to promote my writing through social media while still keeping up with friends, all while not alienating either one.

Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard wrote a paper on the subject called, “When Worlds Collide in Cyberspace: How Boundary Work in Online Social Networks Impacts Professional Relationships.” Long title, but interesting food for thought. We’ve seen a number of high-profile CEOs and celebs take a beating over a personal photo or statement posted on social media but there are also plenty of cases of everyday people taking a hit for what seemed like an innocuous posting.

If it okay for the teacher to post photos of herself at a bar with her girlfriends? What if she’s the CEO of a toy company? What if it was a convention cocktail party with clients? The response changes a little with each shift.

Says Rothbard,

Our research shows that what has changed really is that people need to be much more careful about thinking about their communication strategy. When we communicate face-to-face or over the phone or dyadically or in a small group, typically what happens is we automatically tailor our communications to our audience. We read their facial expressions. We look at their non-verbal cues, their body language. We usually know something about them, and so we’re more careful, automatically careful, about how we are tailoring what we are saying and how we’re saying it.

Rothbard and her colleagues put together this chart showing your social media options and the pros and cons of each.

balancing boundariesIn order to decide which is right for you, you have to think about your ultimate goal. If you’re trying to sell a service or product, you have to proceed with care and don’t think that hiding behind a clever nickname will keep co-workers and clients from finding you. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t post personal messages. You want to develop a relationship with your followers. But there’s a big difference between posting images of your new puppy and posting images of your girlfriend in a bikini.

Bottom line – think before you post. Think about your audience. Think about your work culture. Think about how it will sound when there’s no context or facial expression to show that you’re only joking. Pause. Think. Hit enter and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief in the end.