Keep personal and business life separate

This is a concern of many students that pops up regularly in the Social Media School.  How do you separate your personal and business life online?  There are a few different aspects and approaches to this which I’ll go through below.

1. The personal/business life line is becoming more blurred

When I was first employed, straight out of school (in 1993), it was a pretty standard understanding that you kept your work and personal life separate.  When you’re an 18 year old, spending your free time out clubbing and working as a travel agent during the day, this made perfect sense.  My bosses and clients had absolutely no interest in my personal life and I didn’t want to share it.  In fact, I’m rather grateful it was actually before social media was popular and it was much easier to keep them apart.

Now, twenty years later in 2013 (wow, has it really been that long!), it is much more difficult to keep boundaries.  I won’t even go into the complexities here (for example, do you and should you connect with your colleagues on Facebook as friends?) but I’m fairly confident saying that a large majority of us have some aspect of our personal lives online, whether we like it or not.

To take this one step further, the rise of social media and its importance in the marketing strategy actually means this can be a positive thing for many.   Friends and family may well become your best customers after reading your business-related updates and can also refer new clients to you.  Especially in my industry of marketing and social media, my personal activity online is actually of great interest to brands and my personal network are mostly interested in what I do work-wise as it really is part of my personality and who I am.  Of course, this isn’t for everyone and there are many ways you can manage more of a separation if you wish.

2. Identify and use relevant social media tools for different purposes

There are a HUGE number  of social media tools out there.  If you’re a more social person keen to connect with family and friends regularly, Facebook may be best for you.  Want to build your professional network?  Get active on LinkedIn.  Like to communicate in short sharp bursts and keep up to date with the latest trends and news?  Twitter is perfect for you.  Hate the whole concept of social media?  Then stick with email.   Ideally, using a mix of these tools is one of the best ways of keeping your personal and business life separate online and on social media.  Even basic users will start to understand this before long and if you need help, you might like to consider joining our social media school.

3. Communicate your preferences to your network

Let people know what suits you best!  If you’ve just attended a business networking event and receive Facebook friend requests, a polite message along these lines should communicate your preferences without being rude:  “Thank you for connecting online.  I prefer to use Facebook to keep in touch with close friends and family, but would be great to connect on LinkedIn – here’s my profile).”

When you next print business cards, include your chosen networks on there.  When you chat to friends and family, ask them how they like to keep in touch.  This can change too – I used to chat with my brothers regularly on Facebook but they have since made more of a shift back to email, while my mum has gone from preferring email to Skype!

Some clients are only on Facebook in which case, I prefer to connect via our Facebook business pages, while with most we use a combination of email, Skype and LinkedIn depending on needs at the time.

4. Check your settings and privacy policies

Every social media network has settings where you can check privacy and security settings and I suggest you do this regularly (monthly for example).  Even if you are not using social media, but visiting websites, be aware that each should have a privacy policy about how they collect, use and share your data.  For example, in Europe, some countries now have a law that websites highlight their cookie policy  for new visitors – making them aware that data is being collected by them simply visiting.  Some companies keep tabs on the browsing and email activities of their staff.  So if you would like to keep personal and business life separate online – perhaps make sure you’re not spending too much time on Facebook!  (unless of course you work in social media and marketing….)

5. You are your own brand!

Whether you have a completely closed profile on Facebook, no photo on LinkedIn or share masses of photos on Pinterest, how little or how much you share publicly also says volumes about you to others – essentially creating your own brand.  All brands need some level of management to ensure they convey the message intended.

Overall, you need to decide how much separation do YOU want between your personal and business life?  The answer varies between individuals.  Of course it depends a lot on the industry you work in and your own personality as to how much you choose to share online and with whom.  When I consult on social media with businesses, I highly recommend creating a social media strategy and policy and procedures document.  It’s well worth considering doing a more basic version for you personally, creating a clear understanding in your own mind of the degree of separation YOU wish to have between your personal and business live online.