The Myth of Business vs. Personal Profiles in Social Media

Like most people I started out using social tools for very distinct purposes. LinkedIn was for connecting with current and former colleagues. Facebook was for friends. Twitter took me a little longer to figure out but basically I decided it was where I would share professional content and opinions.

But now we have Google+, Pandora is becoming a social sharing site (not to mention Flickr and Foursquare) and well you get the point: it’s getting even more confusing!

So the question is: can we be distinct people or personalities on different social sites?

Most of us have thought through our rules for who we connect with, on which social channels and how we behave there. But is this all a myth? Is there any real separation in our business and our personal profiles no matter where we are and what we do?

In this post, I will try to explore these questions and present my point-of-view. I hope you’ll share yours as well…

Work is Personal. Computing is Social. Knowledge is Power. Break The Rules

~ Fast Company Issue #1 November, 1995

For me it all started when, as a young professional, I would find myself in social settings with work colleagues. As a young guy fresh out of college, my social habits were very different when I was hanging out with my friends vs. when I was having a drink with colleagues the night after one of our quarterly sales meetings.

But then I saw this new magazine called “Fast Company.” It spoke to me like it knew what I was thinking: why couldn’t I be myself in both places? Luckily I learned to tone down my behavior in my personal life before relaxing a bit more in professional settings 😉

But you get the point: this is not a new question!

We are not Stepford employees. We are real people with emotions who can learn to bring a little more of our real selves to our work. Only good things can come from bringing passion, respect and “the Golden Rule” to those we work with and those we live with.

What Rules Do You Use To Decide Who To Connect With on Your Social Media Channels?

A little while back someone asked this question on our internal portal. It was one of the most active discussions we’ve seen yet.  I commented that I have started to see a convergence across social channels. My Twitter followers are becoming LinkedIn connection and Facebook friends. And I am grateful for every one of them.

The point became clear to me when I shared a funny and personal story about my son on Facebook. I had dozens of comments from “friends” that ranged from my earliest friends growing up to current colleagues at work to recent Twitter followers – all chiming in.

The light bulb went off once again: there is no such thing as a work-me and home-me. There is only what I choose to share and where I choose to share it.

Is this a personal or professional blog? It’s neither. It’s just my blog where I chose to engage an audience around a topic I am passionate about.

So What Does All This Mean?

I like the way Lisa Barone fron Outspoken Media sums it up in an article she wrote a while back:

We are officially beyond the days where you can have a distinct “personal” and “corporate” tweeting style. You must decide who you are and bleed it. From all accounts.

She continues:

You cannot expect people to form a relationship with you if you’re not willing to share part of yourself with them. This isn’t rocket science, its human relationships 101. Surely, we’re not so void of real person-to-person contact that we’ve forgotten this. To make a friend, you have to be a friend. Otherwise, WTF are you doing?

More Resources

So this conclusion is not just true for people, but also for companies as well. It’s why Michael Brito from Edelman Digital argues on Jay Baer’s Blog that you have to BE social before you can DO social. One final resource if you have never seen it, is the Paul Adam presentation called The Real Life Social Network. If you’ve never seen it, you should check it out (all 224 pages). Paul works at Facebook but produced this while at Google. It provides really interesting context into what inspired Google+.

So if you want to Tweet about what you had for lunch, I won’t mind. If you blog about your cat, that is ok. Because in the end, I have no interest in connecting with robots.

This is “Brand You” we’re talking about. Work is Personal. Break the Rules!

Now come on, tell me what you think in the comments below.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

17 thoughts on “The Myth of Business vs. Personal Profiles in Social Media

  1. Great post Michael – I have seen the process of the blending of work and personal and the real amplification of my passions (which are small business, partner success and SAP Business One) has happened as a result of this.

    My experience tells me that only by being yourself (or authentic, as the buzz word runs these days) can you truly engage an audience and build those relationships.

    As a result of taking the approach you talk about, I have been able to engage with more people in the last 3 years of my career than in the past 23.

    And as a fellow SAP employee, this approach adds a human face to a big brand that has helped me be more successful in working with our partners and customers.

    Mind you, it has not been without some perils and pitfalls – but overall it works!

    1. Hi Richard,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. You and I interacted a year or so back when we collaborated on a customer inquiry that turned into a customer. Great example of how being yourself allows us to create connections we would never have made before.

      And yes, there are risks in putting yourself out there. But for me it is all worth it!

      Best, Michael

  2. A lot of what Michael says is true but there cannot be a completely unified identity where both personal and business relationships merge completely The friends you built while at school and later in college, who would have gone into different professions,the guys who share the tennis court or tee off on weekends come to you on FB The chemistry you shared with old school buddies cannot be the same as what you have with your pro colleagues who may be your customers,buyers,vendors or even competitors.These come largely on Linked In But many would be on both What I tweet may be of interest to some….and if you are rich and famous,maybe to everyone

    1. Thanks Ashwin, I agree there are norms of behavior in different settings that we must follow and traditional roles we have grown accustomed to being in. But certainly there is some convergence happening. We are not multiple personalities, just the same person in different settings.

      Best, Michael

  3. Stepford vs. convergence. Ah yes…I recall early in my career (80s), you were to strap your boots, you get to work, on time, and not a minute late, head down, and dare if you would, bring personality with you. The days of stodgy insurance companies and bank-turned-ad agencies. I will just say that I like TODAY much better, and we are the sum product of our experiences. And those experiences — life and work and friends and the social aspect of our lives — influence how we perform, the ideas we bring, the passion we have, and how we perceive the world. The connections, referrals, introductions, networks, content, and engagement have definitely helped me to drive more meaningful relationships both personally and professionally, solve problems for my community, and to break down barriers of communication. And I am a firm believer in BEING social before DOING social — yeah! Thanks Michael.

    1. Hey Denise, ah the good ‘ole days. And to think I used to smoke with my boss in his office! LOL.

      And there are probably downsides too I guess. There is a lot more profanity now, which is good news for me because I am dreadfully incapable of controlling it sometimes. And there are those “what are they wearing?” moments but probably no more than before.

      In the end, I just think that we are seeing an evolution to the personalization and socialization of business. And it is all good!

      Best, Michael

  4. Hi Michael,

    This is a really interesting post. I try to use LinkedIn and Twitter for business and Facebook for my social calendar. I even use my maiden name on Facebook and married name on the other sites to keep the separation. However, with all the overlap, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up.

    It’s true that you are your brand – whether you’re working on a business project or hanging out with your friends. I like the reference to the 1995 article. It shows you how Fast Company was ahead of their time.


    1. Hi Rachel,

      I found the same thing. I tried really hard to talke the exact same approach as you. Then slowly my Twitter followers started connecting with me on Facebook. And then this one post about my son kicking me in the shins drew dozens of comments and I saw colleagues right next to old friends and bloggers. It was a real eye-opening moment for me. Since then I have been essentially relaxing my “rules” and finding that I am relating more to people than before.

      And yes, those Facebook cover stories were so ahead of their time and really cool! We talk about Cluetrain Manifesto but this was 15 years ago!

      Thanks so much for your comment and support!

  5. Great article and I love the Lisa Barone quotes. For me I have not yet reached an equal personal & work level on Facebook. In the same situation as you were – a young professional straight out of college – I feel my personal Facebook profile remains a place for friends (and college memories…), while Twitter and LinkedIn is where my professional personality lies. No doubt there are plenty of similarities…but also a few differences!
    Interestingly, Google+ (so far) is really allowing me to put all this together under one roof now. So even if I may behave slightly different to my friends circle than my work circle, at least I can do it all on one platform.

    1. Hi Will,

      We’re all in the process of discovering our online “voice” so matter what age or level of experience. And yes, I thought about going into that exact benefit of Google+ but there has been plenty written about it in the last weeks. I’m glad you brought it up and it’s a great point.

      And Lisa Barone is one the best bloggers out there so I take every chance I get to quote her!

      Best, Michael

  6. I’ll definitely be sharing this post. My own blog, The Transparent Agenda, examines this emerging social paradigm whereby there can no longer be any separation between who we are and what we do for a living. The advent of instant information sharing makes it increasingly difficult to keep the personal realm at arms length from the professional when communities, both online and “real world” are celebrating a return to personalized relationships of trust, sincerity of passionate purpose and accountability.

    1. Hey Scott, amen to that! Isn’t it amazing that Fast Company nailed this 15 years ago? They were right, but it is taking time. And it couldn’t come soon enough! Thanks for sharing and commenting and I will definitely check out your blog!

      Best, Michael

  7. Awesome article. This reminds me of how mobile phones have evolved. I think in the late 90s and early 2000s people would use separate phones for business and for personal use. Forward to modern day 2011 and many of us carry a single smartphone. When will TV and Internet become the same thing? Oh wait, that’s already starting to happen. Makes me wonder if the end goal of technology is to blur the lines of everything conceivable.

    1. Excellent point Jon. It’s all about convergence. And someday all this technology will exist on a chip in our heads – blurring the lines between humanity and technology. Now there’s a deep one to think about over the weekend. Dr. Michio Kaku talks about this in his book “Physics of The Future” and on his TV shows. If you want to learn more:

      Best, Michael

  8. This issue is sociological in its depth and scope! Mark Zuckerberg is often criticized for his alleged lack of understanding of privacy issues purported to be more adult than he can comprehend. Your post makes the simple observation that there is a convergence of types of information that tends to be deposited within various social media. But was it that the use of the technology in modern times triggered this (unnatural) tendency to de-compartmentalize ourselves? Zuckerman’s critics would seem to be saying so. Or is it closer to the truth to say that our own human nature precipitate that convergence, and the technology only facilitated that very natural change? If so, is that a new phenomenon? Or is it something that always happened to some extent whenever the social environment changed? I’m still pondering, What I am beginning to glean from reading this post is that Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and all the others have probably been responsible for bringing about the type of world that Zuckerberg and many of his generation always lived within their heads. That word may be closer to true human nature than what we had always been forced to practice in the past when we were different things to different people just to survive.

    1. Wow Rodney, you’ve got my head spinning (all good). Great questions for us all to ponder. I’m not sure there are easy answers but it is interesting to consider.

      I do agree there is a psycho-social element to all this that transcends the technology and the tools. Many have argued that Facebook is simply the name of the solution to the frustration many people had with the impersonal nature of the internet, email, and other newer forms of communication. As the lawsuits have contended, he wasn’t the only one with this idea. He was just the one who succeeded in commercializing it first.

      In the end, I think that people will continue to seek to connect with others and will constantly be driving technological change and convergence between personal and professional behavior.

      Best, Michael

  9. Excellent article and easy to fully understand explanation. How do I go about getting permission to post component of the page in my upcoming newsletter? Giving proper credit to you the author and link to the site would not be a problem.

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