Balancing the professional and personal on social media

Written as part of my time serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA, this post sought to clarify some of the conflicting advice I received in regards to using social media professionally.

Balancing the professional and personal on social media

Peel me a puzzleWe all know that nothing is truly private anymore, and social media profiles can be career boosters or killers. As this Mashable Infographic depicts, 1 in 5 employers use social media sites to research job candidates! It is not always easy to figure out how, when and what to share socially. Having a well-crafted and professionally applicable Twitter account can be a boon as you look to find a new job, make contacts in a new field, or educate yourself about various topics. However Twitter, Facebook and other sites might also be the way you connect and communicate with friends on a personal level. How does one find the right balance between snarky updates about the most recent episode of “Project Runway” as opposed to great resource links, relevant news and tips/tricks? Do you risk losing professional credibility if you tweet about meeting with friends at a bar for happy hour, or does that help provide a human connection point? When does the personal side of social media overwhelm the professional, or vice versa?

A little backstory here: I am of the Millennial generation, and yes, I joined Facebook back in the heady days of 2005, when it was still rolling out across college campuses. However, I also have a profound respect for privacy and achieving balance between the different spheres of my life. I have been using Twitter semi-anonymously (as in I use only a portion of my full name) for a little over 3 years; during that time, I have tweeted my way through grad school, a job search and one cross-country move. Now serving as an Americorp VISTA at NPower Northwest, I find my interests and interactions on Twitter becoming more professional. I have begun to make good connections with other nonprofit tech leaders and want to continue to learn about my new field through the wonders of Twitter. I am learning about the many ways that good use of social media can be a boon for individuals at all career levels.

So how does one go about achieving this balance between your personal connections and your professional networking? Here are three tips that help me as I navigate the complex world of social media and professional networking.

  1. Decide what the purpose of each of your social network channels are and stick to that purpose.

    For example, I use Facebook to connect with friends, relatives and random people from my past. I use Flickr to share photos with friends and family and serve as an online back-up. I use LinkedIn to showcase my resume and discover new networking connections. I blog, semi-anonymously, to keep up with friends/family and make fun connections with people from around the world. I tweet to connect with friends and extend my professional network. And I use Google+ to keep in touch with my fellow HandsOn Tech VISTAs serving in 7 different cities. While this is a somewhat complicated system, it helps me decide on privacy settings and content for each network, while allowing me to balance the professional and personal.

  2. Be nice

    No matter what your privacy settings are, or your level of anonymity, it is always a good idea to assume that anyone and possibly everyone will read what you write/share/tweet/etc. Privacy settings can change (I am looking at you, Facebook), friendships evolve, and the gal who used to be your wine-tasting buddy could one day be your co-worker, so don’t assume anything online is truly private or secure. In other words, keep things polite and your rants off the personal level.

  3. Equally important — be genuine.

    If a big part of who you are is your obsession with tasting a beer from every microbrewery in Seattle, or your undying love for everything ever written by Joss Whedon, don’t hide who you are online. Remember — if an employer doesn’t want to hire you because you drink more than 7 cups of coffee a day, you probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyways. And more importantly, being genuine about your interests and activities increases the chance of making those real connections with people who might help find your next job, join your next happy hour, or pass on a link to the best blog post you have ever read.

Thanks to Beth Kanter for her great blog post on The Tension Between Publicness and Privacy which helped inspire this post.

Originally published on the NPower Northwest blog.

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