One of the questions I hear most often when I'm teaching a social media seminar is how to balance their professional social media presence with their personal one. People ask me if they should blog and Tweet as themselves or as their business. They ask if they should mix business contacts with friends on Facebook and LinkedIn. They want to know if they can talk about their hobbies on their business profiles. Basically, they want to know the pros and cons of mixing business with pleasure in the blurry-lined landscape of social media.
It's a question I've had to ask myself many times over the years. For the past decade, my business and personal life have mixed and mingled without incident on the web. I spent two years sharing my life and my thoughts as a nursing mother of two young children on a very public blog called The Lactivist. I shared my obsession with cute lunches when I wrote a series on my bento hobby blog and I shared my daily diet plan with the SEO industry while dropping nearly 20 pounds for charity. If you followed me on Twitter, you were just as likely to hear me talking about a night out with friends, my thoughts on home birth or the last recipe I tried as you were to hear me debating organic search tactics. Basically, my business persona and my personal persona were one and the same.
Or at least they were until last November when I all but vanished from my blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Those who know me well enough to touch base with me at conferences or on Gtalk know I've had quite a bit going on in my personal life over the last six months. The rest of the social media world? They just know I vanished.
It's the peril of letting your personal life get too intertwined with your business life on the web. If something happens that gives you cause to go silent, all the work you've done to build up that social media presence can get thrown out the window and that can hurt your business. While social media has helped move all of us into the celebrity world of living out our personal lives on a stage, many of us choose to keep the most intimate details of our personal lives personal, not realizing just how much our every day conversation reveals until we find ourselves in the midst of personal changes we'd rather not share with the world.
It makes a strong case for keeping your personal life separate. That said, there's an equally strong case for mixing business and pleasure. It's each person's job to weigh the pros and cons and decide for themselves. With that in mind, let's consider it from both angles.
Personal Connections Strengthen Online Bonds
There's a challenge to doing business online. The lack of face to face contact makes it difficult for us to make the personal connections that so often influence our purchasing and partnership decisions. We mix and mingle at Chamber of Commerce meetings because we like to have professional contacts we can trust. We form opinions of people based on our conversations with them, on the things we have in common and on the way we watch them interact with others. We sign deals over a game of golf or a round of drinks. In fact, our personal lives often open doors in the business world by helping us establish connections with people.
That's why despite my own disappearing act from the world of social media, I'm hard pressed to take a hard line stance against allowing your personal life to infiltrate the social media accounts you use for business purposes. While it could be argued my limited participation these past several months has set back my professional growth in the social media community, it can also be argued that my social media profile never would have been as large as it was had I not spent so many years blogging as Jennifer Laycock, kid-wrangling, Buffy-loving, bento-making marketer, and not simply as Search Engine Guide.
With that in mind, let's consider some of the pros of mixing business and pleasure while building your social media accounts.
Don't Take an Open Forum too Far
I think the key to remember is that not everything you have to say should be said publicly. Whether it's a celebrity interview that dives way too deep into someone's personal life, or a co-worker venting about finances or relationships, we've all sat through uncomfortable moments where we knew someone else was telling us something we really shouldn't be privy too.
This is something I see happening regularly on Facebook. Whether it's because people mix up "post to wall" and "send a message" or because they simply don't care who sees the conversation, I regularly see the intimate details of people's lives (and the lives of their friends and family) being publicly discussed. We're slowly moving toward an online community that thinks every aspect of their lives are fair game. While that's fine and dandy when they are sharing their own life, it starts to get sticky when their life includes other people.
The truth is, personal issues present challenges in life no matter what. Hollywood celebrities and political figures live out the trials and crisis publicly that the rest of us get to face in the relative quiet of our personal lives. The niche celebrity that comes from building a social media profile for your business can thrust us into the same challenges on a smaller level.
For the most part the problems are few and far between, but the truth is you take risks any time you make your personal life public. Consider the pros and cons carefully, look at the type of business model you've set up and decide which factors are most likely to come into play. Ultimately, there's no right way to build a social media profile. Like nearly every other business and marketing decision you'll make, you've got to weigh the risks and do what works most effectively for you.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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