The Challenge of Mixing the Professional and Personal in Social Media

When most of us first started using social media in the late 2000s, we embraced it as a personal channel for sharing conversations and content with family members and friends. But as social media matured and became a mainstay of our communication landscape, its value as an indispensable tool for creating a personal brand that mixed the professional with the personal became apparent.

But what’s the right mix, method and material for combining the two to define a personal brand on social media? It’s an answer that will uniquely depend on the job and personality of each person and one that will quickly change as social media formats and technologies continue to change.

However, after recently reading Mel Carson’s book, Introduction to Personal Branding, and Aliza Licht’s book, Leave Your Mark, I’ve made a number of profound discoveries in this area. Here are three in particular that have informed the way I’m reshaping my personal brand.

“Views are my own”

In a lecture related to his book, Mel Carson led me to have an aha moment about the “views are my own” disclaimer that many people include on their personal Twitter pages.

Mel pointed out that if someone plays a key role in or has a reputation associated with a particular organization, event or creative work, that of course their views at least somewhat reflect the views of the things they’re most associated with! There’s no on/off switch to separate the times when we’re using social media from the times when we’re acting in our day jobs. In hindsight, it’s silly to think that including this disclaimer can create this separation, and this has reinforced a crucial guideline for me to follow in my social media accounts.

Although this is something I’ve mostly done on Twitter, Instagram, and, of course, LinkedIn, it’s something I realize I’ve been increasingly not doing on Facebook. This leads me to two observations about how I use Facebook as a personal branding channel:

· Facebook is extremely personal — I’ve always, rightly or wrongly, considered Facebook to be a more personal channel, and I’ve tried to be careful to keep strict privacy controls on it. And more worryingly, in the past two years, I’ve begun to broaden my Facebook posts to occasionally include political views at times when I feel strongly about them.

· A personal Facebook account may be a growing risk — In light of Mel’s insight, though, I have realized that I need to make a more clear decision about this and weigh the rewards of having a forum in which I can be frank with my friends versus the risks of having employers, colleagues and others interpret my posts negatively.

Reconciling these two won’t be easy, but at least I’m in a more informed position to make a decision now.

Identifying a signature item

Another insight from my recent readings that particularly resonated with me is the value of creating a signature look for a personal brand.

Aliza Licht boiled this down memorably in Leave Your Mark by saying that “repetition is reputation.” The more you repeat something, the more people will associate that item with you.

Similarly, Mel Carson in his book explained the value of offering a physical trait that people can remember about you. In Mel’s case, it’s his wearing of the color red in some way — an intriguing fashion touch.

In my case, I’ve begun incorporating this lesson in at least two ways:

· Increasing updates related to my brand — I’ve been focusing on upping the number of and consistency in the updates I make related to grammar, style and editing — my area of interest and the area that I’m trying to establish as my personal brand. In doing this, my goal is to make these kinds of updates a signature of my social media, but I need to continue to keep a consistent pace with this and develop useful, interesting updates that will catch the attention of readers.

· Updating descriptions and images — I’ve also been updating all the descriptions of my primary social media channels with tight, focused descriptions that incorporate my grammar, style and editing focus. This description is now more consistent for my personal brand, as well as the headshots and banner images, which now include an editing-related image of a red pen marking edits to reinforce my focus in that area.

Being social when you’re away

A final insight I took away from my recent readings pertains to taking advantage of every opportunity to extend and amplify your personal brand.

In this area, Mel Carson described that one glaring missed opportunity for many people is the ubiquitous perfunctory out-of-office messages that most of us leave. How nonsensical it is to leave a message saying you’re out and can’t help someone with whatever they want, but to not take that opportunity to say a little about where you are and how people can follow your activities through social media.

This an opportunity I can take immediate advantage of by including a mention of my new Facebook business page at www.facebook.com/priestlypointers, as well as an invite to follow my out-of-office activities on other social media channels.

Looking Ahead

Determining the right mix of the professional and personal on social media will to some degree uniquely depend on a person’s profession and personality. But through the insights of thought leaders like Mel Carson and Aliza Licht, each of us can take proven steps to integrate the two to define a more powerful personal brand. I look forward to seeing what the results will be for me.