Can You Be Personal and Professional in Social Media?

Original Post Here January 7th, 2010 (12:00pm) Dawn Foster

There have been plenty of blog posts and discussions recently about how you need to be “personal” across the various social media web sites, even when communicating on behalf of your company or brand. Social media is about conversations, and people have conversations with other people, not faceless corporations. So you want to come across as a person talking with people, not at them, unlike the traditional one-way marketing broadcasts of yesteryear.
In this post, I am going to focus specifically on how to balance the personal with the professional, but you should also read Aliza’s post about revisiting her 10 golden rules of social media for more best practices.
You can actually be professional and personal at the same time in social media without too much effort. When we talk about “being personal” on social media web sites, I think that many people confuse “personal” with “private.” The reality is that you get to decide what to share and what not to share, so you can still keep most areas of your private life private. Think about this like the beginning of a conference call on Monday where you spend a few minutes talking about how you spent your weekend. You probably aren’t going to reveal anything private, inappropriate or unprofessional in a conference call with a client or coworkers, but sharing a little personal information does help you get to know each other on a level that is slightly deeper than just having strictly work conversations. This is exactly the type of personal information you can easily share on social media.
Value is an important consideration for both personal and professional social media posts. Before you post something, think about the value that you can offer along with the observation. For example, “making pizza for dinner” is going to be of little value and less interesting to people than if you get detailed about the type of pizza and include a link to the recipe. While you may be thinking it’s silly to post about food, the reality is that people really bond around food; they enjoy talking about it, and it’s way more neutral than politics or religion. In other words, it’s a relatively safe topic, but one that people are very passionate about. Now, you probably wouldn’t post something like this to a corporate account for your brand (unless you are Tony Hsieh from Zappos), but you can talk about your products in a personal way by adding a note about your experience with the product as the author of the post. Maybe you helped with the design or product definition, and you can mention your personal contribution to the product.
Variety can also play a big role in how well you balance the personal and professional. You should strive for an appropriate balance based on your situation with a nice variety in your posts. For example, if you use Facebook mostly for personal reasons, and you start posting almost exclusively professional updates, your personal friends will probably be irritated. Likewise, if you use Twitter mostly for work, and you start posting only personal updates, you’ll lose the people who are following you for your professional insights. The trick is to come up with a balance between the personal and professional that works well in your situation, without swinging too far into either direction. I make a point of looking at my Twitter stream every few days to make sure that I have an appropriate balance of personal and professional along with a few other things that I try to balance (informative vs. fun, self-promotion vs. promoting others, etc.)
Context is also important. Being personal is very important in some cases and less important in others, so you need to think about the context and what you are trying to accomplish as a brand, and make the right decisions for your company. The tricky part is that no one approach will work for everyone and no one piece of advice fits well in every situation. This means living within the norms of the various web sites or networks where you are participating, but coming up with an approach that makes sense for you and your company. No blogger, consultant or industry expert can make the decision about the right balance for you.
How do you balance personal with professional in social media?
Photo by Flickr user D. Sharon Pruitt used under Creative Commons.