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Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009 at 11:47 am

The Social Network Debate: Separation of Professional and Play

By Natalie Hart
January 13th, 2009

This week I created a new Facebook account. Having made my original Facebook account at the age of 17, and it following me through my college years, I feared the impression professional contacts would get from my pictures, status updates and wall posts from friends. Not that I was the most rebellious girl in the pack, but I doubted that my boss needed to be updated every time my best friends wrote an inside joke on my wall or posted a funny picture of us all out a bar. So, I “de-friended” all of my professional contacts that I had accumulated on my original facebook account and “re-friended” them on my new, professional Facebook account.

However, after thinking about this tactical move more, and chatting with Bryan Eisenberg about it, I feared that I had just alienated some of my potential networking contacts. My social friends do not solely exist in bars and out at parties, they have careers and contacts too.

So, I’m asking you, the readership – What do you think of Facebook, Myspace, etc. profiles when someone in your professional life incorporates their social life onto their online profile? Is there a happy medium out there? And, what should this social, fun, and professional 22 year-old do about her Facebook accounts? Is it better to separate professional and play online?

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Comments (34)

  1. My preference is to use Facebook for play and LinkedIn for work. I never mix the two — and just too make sure I don’t “upset” anyone, my Facebook profile is kept profile, and my LinkedIn is public. Different tools for different contexts.

  2. Correction: “Facebook profile is kept private”

  3. Interesting. But you ever have people that overlap between your personal and professional lives? And, do you ever fear that you will loose networking opportunities by not bringing your social world into your professional world and vice versa?

  4. I want to connect with those who will be insanely loyal to me – and repel those who I have to jump through hoops to please or pretend to be something I’m not.

    So, I let my personality and interests show through in social media. My family, my beliefs and even my political orientation are a distinct part of my personal brand. I have gained far more in business by living an integrated life than I than I would if I treated my life as a series of hats that I put on and took off.

    Authenticity is where it’s at!

  5. I think mixing the two can be beneficial for both you and your contacts… but there should be guidelines!

    I think that if you are leading a well behaved social life, than you have nothing to worry about. I associate with my coworkers outside of work too, and many of them are “friends” on Facebook. Having a drink or two doesn’t hurt anyone if its well-mannered. I strive to match my social life with my professional career in that my outgoing personality and ability to make people feel comfortable around me translates to my job as a marketing and advertising professional.

    If I’m falling off bar stools every night of the week, and my Facebook profile tells that story, its my personality that’s in question, not the places I go to, or the people I go out with.

    Further, what happens if a social contact of yours works at a company in the future that needs the services of the company you work for? I think maintaining those friendships can help your career in the end. Again, it has to mean that you are a “stand-up guy” and not consistently the drunk one at the party they wouldn’t trust to babysit their pet turtle. :)

  6. My advice, be who you are. Social media withstanding. IMO in your professional career people end up working with you because of who you are in and out of the office. So mix the two, tweet the two, blog the two and see if you don’t end up meeting and working with folks that really get you and jive when you jive.

  7. I quite liked having both professional (clients), colleagues and friends all on one account, sometimes there is even a cross over (6-degrees of seperation).

    HOWEVER; I no NOT allow comments & some tagging (depending on the photo in question!), thus people can only interact with me by sending me event requests and messages. Why do people use comments anyway? I do it too, but seriously, in most cases, why do we bother? I think there is the ‘being seen’ factor that comes in to play here, but not on my profile thank you very much!

    Also, FB is a great way to then link to my LinkedIn profile and visa versa.

    … Sometimes it’s nice to show people that you are an actual human and not just a telephone number/email address. Also, in the line of work of internet marketing, showing you are socially aware online is nothing but a bonus.

    Live, breathe, sleep it. ^_^

  8. This is all really great insight. I agree that you want to show you have a personality beyond the professional demeanor that you exhibit in the office. But, at least for me, and those my age, writing on my wall IS about being seen, but it is also part of my social culture. I don’t want to alienate myself socially because I want to be seen a certain way at work. So, for me at least, eliminating this function is non-negotiable. (FYI – It was something I tried initially when I had a single Facebook profile, but after a while I began to feel left out of the ongoing conversation strains happening in my social circles)

  9. As for me: Professional contacts on LinkedIn. Personal contacts on FB.

  10. Interesting topic, Natalie. I’ve wrestled with this issue in the past, not wanting to sever potential networking contacts due to the fact that they watched me do tequila shots at a rundown bar in Antarctica (which, by the way, is one of the only things to DO in Antarctica…)

    However, I think that creating a separate account further leads me to live a disjointed life. While I don’t necessarily want my boss to know that I, in fact, HAVE danced ON a bar in New Zealand (pics have been removed, thankyouverymuch), my social and personal life are very much a part of who I am, as is my professional life. By removing one from the other, I feel that I’m all but splitting my personality into two worlds and trying to keep up with leading two lives…something I REALLY can’t keep up with and makes me feel scattered in both worlds.

    If you’re interested, there’s a great book called _A Hidden Wholeness_ by Parker J. Palmer about living this “whole” life. Give an interesting perspective on personal implications of compartmentalizing.

  11. social networking should include all parts of your life – its all about work/life integration! that being said, professionals in your life should not have to see any inappropriate content/wall posts/status updates, etc. however we all have those hybrids – the friends at work. solution? create “groups” in friends and edit who you allow to do what. example: group all your professional contacts into one and only allow them to see a portion of your FB page. i am connected and networked with my work group but they are not allowed to see videos/pics or wall posts…so my friends are free to be themselves. the outcome is that i am using social networking and enjoying the benefits of interacting with both fun and work on my own terms. 2.oh!

  12. I have thought long and hard about this. I’ve decided that with blogging, accounts everywhere, etc, that my best bet is to be completely transparent. That being said, I too have multiple Facebook accounts, but only because I am acting as an “admin” on some Facebook pages we are creating to support some work initiatives. I don’t feel the need to show up as an admin on something we are trying to keep professional, and have it link to my real Facebook page with messages from people I went to elementary school with.

    I am not so concerned about colleagues, etc, seeing my Facebook profile, I wouldn’t be posting much that I wouldn’t want anyone to see, and I’m also pretty open about things.

    Ultimately, I feel like trying to hide online never works!

  13. As a 23-year-old part-time Facebooker and full-time professional, I have just changed my Facebook presence, including photos, wall posts, status updates to fit both roles. I think I’d need to have a personal assistant to keep up with TWO Facebook accounts. I have just told my friends that I now use Facebook for both personal and professional interests, and that I’d prefer for them to not tag me in goofy bar pics or to write “Heyyyy when are we going to go get drunnnk?” on my wall.

  14. Keep one profile please. It is a shame that your private life has to be separated from your public life. Be who you are and don’t present a “facade.”
    Trip Allen, Team Egyii, Singapore

  15. I ran into this exact same issue when I joined the corporate world. When I was told I was going to be the social media guru at my company and needed to have a professional presence on Facebook, I quickly created a new Facebook profile for the sole use of professional networking. In real life we separate our professional and personal lives, so why is it so crazy to want to do that online too?

    I also think this problem is unique to young professionals. For one thing we have had access to Facebook longer because originally you had to have a college email address to join. This means that we have years of spring break pictures and goofy wall posts tied to our profiles. As a young professional, especially being a woman, it is already difficult enough to be taken seriously. The last thing I want is for pictures of me in my Halloween costume to affect that.

    I would be hard pressed to find someone who is completely transparent in their networking offline, so why are we expected to be completely transparent online?

  16. I think you have to pick a choice: You are the same persona at work and at live. Or You are one persona at work and other persona at live.

    If you choose the first one, then you can keep only one account, else you can get Facebook for live, and linkedin for work!

  17. If i am not wrong you can choose (at least on Facebook) who has access to different parts of your profile. I don’t give everyone access to the wall and photographs for example

  18. matthew is absolutely correct.

    there is no point in having two Facebook accounts, when there are features to control who sees what baked into the way FB works. here’s the step by step:

    1. Go to Friends > All Friends
    2. Click “Make a New List” on the left hand side.
    3. Put all of your professional contacts into a list called “Work”.
    4. Now go to Settings > Privacy Settings
    5. You can go into each of the four options separately. Within each one, you can specifically define (using dropdown menus) which lists can see what. My professional contacts can’t see any of my photos or videos, for instance. You can even restrict them from seeing parts of your wall.

    hope that helps! should be super-simple.

  19. I sense from reading this that most of this thread’s commenters are, like you, on the young side.

    I’m 53, on Facebook and Linked In, but I mostly use Facebook, and I use it to discuss everything I’m interested in. What Facebook has meant to an old fart like me is a way to keep in touch not only with current business friends (and family and personal), but to facilitate reconnecting with many folks from past professional lives. These are people with whom I’ve already been through the wars. I don’t show pictures of myself downing tequila shots, mostly because I don’t do that stuff anymore, but some of these old friends remember me when, so there’s no reason to hide the version of myself I choose to present on FB. What seems to be happening is that doors reopen for work and other involvements that would’ve not been available before, and I have to think part of the reason for that is they know me.

  20. I did the same thing as Nic. I have all the people from work in one group and all my friends in another. The people from work can’t see my wall, my pics, or my status updates. Even if I’m good friends with a person from work, they go in the work group.

    My personal life is just that, personal. I don’t need the guy sitting next to me seeing that I have a nice house with a pool, or that a few times a year I still party like I did 10 years ago.

    If I want to share something from my personal life with someone from work, I’ll tell them face to face.

  21. It depends on your career situation and aspiration. Having total transparency is great in a non judgmental, non hypocritical ideal world.

    However when you are one out of a thousand job applicants HR is trying to find anything they can just to thin the herd. And nevermind that same HR executive purging your job application for a bar picture has a porno mag in his car or better yet a call girl under his desk.

    If you are a club promoter, showing you doing shots of tequila is fine, it serves a purpose for your career. But if you are just trying to keep your personal and professional life separate. It just seems the people calling for total transparency are usually self employed or working in a quirky Web 2.0 company, and are totally clueless when it comes to the realities of HR practices today. Keep the Facebook profile separate or block the access to non friends.

  22. [...] a great discussion kicked off by a post from Natalie on the FutureNow blog a few days ago on the benefits and pitfalls of the two [...]

  23. Social media sites are great resources to find new information but can also be used to spread the word about your business.You should always keep your marketing about the prospect, avoid getting into features and details too much.

  24. “Having total transparency is great in a non judgmental, non hypocritical ideal world.” – Great quote. I’m not willing to bet that having potential clients or employers will be able to look at my profile and the things my longtime friends say won’t effect their opinion of me before I’ve had a chance to build that myself. And my coworkers? They’re coworkers and they don’t need to see that much into my life.

  25. I know every one puts their pants on, but I don’t want to know how or why my work contacts put theirs on!

  26. My biggest issue in seperating my identities in my Facebook account has been my profile picture. I have a let’s say, “spring break” profile picture. I really do not want to take it down, it means a lot to me.

    Even if I limit access I still can be found in search results if someone is able to get on my college network, right? Would hate for potential employer or corporate client to see a facebook account with me and a shirt and tie, and then another at the beach. Even if they can’t get to the full profile they obviously know what’s up. What do you think?

    I had a a friend that was able to hack this problem successfully – 2 years ago Facebook was more liberal in changing your name – so he used a first letter of his last name for his “personal” profile, and created another FB profile when he started going for jobs and internships. That way anyone searching for his first name can still find him – and he can have full visibility on his profile. Can’t change names like that now unfortunately.

  27. great comment about the reality of HR departments. Sad, but to offten HR is still the “push them off to the side – out of sight and out of mind” department — definitely not the ones you want to see who you really are.

    “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean somebody isn’t after you.”

    Also, my dad told me a long time ago that manners, customs, restraint, etc. allow people who don’t like each other to still successfully interact.

    Don’t ask, don’t tell is often just basic courtesy, no?

  28. btw, a friend of mine (who does HR consulting) told me that Google has been losing a lot of its most productive employees lately — largely because of Gen X Gen Y (work versus “the rest of my life”) issues. Maybe Google should have checked out their FB pages – might have given some insights before it was too late.

  29. [...] Natalie Hart at FutureNow shared her dilemma of whether she should separate her personal and professional Facebook life. This week I created a new Facebook account. Having made my original Facebook account at the age of 17, and it following me through my college years, I feared the impression professional contacts would get from my pictures, status updates and wall posts from friends. Not that I was the most rebellious girl in the pack, but I doubted that my boss needed to be updated every time my best friends wrote an inside joke on my wall or posted a funny picture of us all out a bar. So, I “de-friended” all of my professional contacts that I had accumulated on my original facebook account and “re-friended” them on my new, professional Facebook account. [...]

  30. Here’s an example of how NOT to combine personal and professional

  31. It’s somewhat of a tough mixture. I have both personal and professional contacts in mine, but somewhat selective too. FB shares way too much IMHO.

  32. I work for a large corp and keep FB for friends and ex-coworkers. Current co-workers are managed in LinkedIn, along with friends who are also professionals and/or don’t use FB. I do have a lot of friends at work, but I draw this line because otherwise I would have to “friend” others at work that I don’t want to be friends with, or risk political consequences for “ignoring” them. My real friends understand, and a few now wish they had done the same, as some annoying people they have to work with are now involved with their FB social pages. It just keeps it cleaner for me – if I worked for a smaller company I don’t think this would be a problem.

  33. This is very Interesting subject. I think that personal should stay personal, even if you live a decent life. People from work need to earn your trust to be considered as friends, and not only people from work. In my facebook friends list I don`t even have some of the people that I meet occasionally from my private life. You need to be careful online, because you never know what you can expect from people you don’t know well. Setting up your facebook privacy, like nic pfost wrote, is one way to do it, maybe the best way in your case.

  34. I’m a lot older than Natalie – so are my daughters. My view on this is one of branding. Certain activities of mine serve as a distraction to coworkers and clients. As an amateur photographer, I like to post pictures online. Sometimes coworkers have seen them and thought, “Why does he have time to take pictures? Shouldn’t he be working?” They don’t check the timestamps to see that it was Saturday. My point is that your message isn’t always delivered clearly, if it’s not focused. Creating a focused message has nothing to do with having something to hide, or whether you misbehave when you’re not at work.

    People who don’t focus the message don’t communicate clearly.

    A business conversation probably should not begin and end with hobbies and family mementos. My work friends and my social friends never seem to click at parties anyway.

    I suggest that we all ask how much separation serves our needs, and develop methods to implement that. I’ve seen a couple of great suggestions for that on this thread already.


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Natalie is a Persuasion Analyst with FutureNow.

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