How to Balance Your Personal and Professional Lives in Social Media

Does social media make you more comfortable, or less comfortable? For me, it’s both.

As my friend Amber Naslund said when I interviewed her on Twitter, social media enables her to have friends that are not dictated by geography or circumstance. And to me, the ability to find people with whom you have a kinship, regardless of where they live is an extraordinary opportunity.

They say it takes a village to raise a child (or an adult), and the relationships I’ve developed via the social Web are incalculably helpful to me personally and in business. Some of those relationships transcend the Web, as I’ve been fortunate enough to put names to avatars with many of the people I’ve come to know and respect online.

My online community cares about me, supports me, and laughs at my jokes. And that’s a comfort. (and I’m thankful for you every day)

But none of that works until or unless you’re ready to get out of your comfort zone online.

You vs. The Real You

social media personal and professionalThe question I’m most often asked when working with corporations and business owners on social media strategy is “how do I balance my personal and professional life online?”

“Surely, no one wants to know what I’m doing on the weekend.”

Actually, they do. They really do. You’ve probably heard the saying that people don’t hire companies, they hire people. It’s why “chemistry” with the client is so critical in professional services firms. Why would you not want to pre-establish chemistry and commonality with your prospective friends and clients online?

The fact is, your personal and professional lives are colliding and blending like a 99 cent frozen margarita on Cinco de Mayo – and that trend will march onward, not backward.

Social media is rooted culturally in showing your real, whole self. Pondering whether someone wants to read a tweet about your Sunday camping trip is no different than wondering why someone cares what you think about a hotel in Akron, via your TripAdvisor review. But somehow (especially on Twitter) incredibly smart businesspeople clam up like Mob bosses pledging fealty to Omerta.

The fundamental truth is that your personal life is almost undoubtedly more interesting than your business life. Period. And, associating some sort of noteworthy character trait to your personal brand makes you more memorable in social media. The fact that you run a PR firm? Meh. The fact that run a PR firm, but also grow prize-winning roses? I’ll remember that.

Show Me Something

Now, there’s of course a difference between personal and banal. The stock criticism of Twitter being filled with updates on what you had for lunch is overblown, but the underlying principle is not. When tweeting or blogging or status updating about your personal life, it should be something that actually reveals a dimension of your life, or character, or belief system.

“I ate at Subway today” is not valid. “Went to Subway today. Had the veggie sub. On day 23 of vegetarian conversion” is valid.

In a socially connected world, where countless opinions and options are just a finger swipe on a mobile device away, differentiation is harder than ever. You have to build some hooks for yourself than transcend the office. That’s why I make it a point to emphasize that I live in a forest. And review restaurants. And have a bottle opener as a business card.

Your personal life? Your professional life? One and the same. I know that’s often uncomfortable. But it’s the truth.

What’s interesting about you outside the office?

(photo by popofatticus)

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