As our online presence becomes more and more tied to our offline identity, we find our worlds colliding in the social media space. Lines between personal and professional become blurred, and what we share with who becomes a bit of a balancing act.
Harvard Business Review addresses this social media conundrum in the recent article “How to Separate the Personal and Professional on Social Media.” The authors cite some social statistics, indicating younger workers are connected with an average of 16 coworkers online and 40% to 60% of hiring managers use social media to screen candidates. A lot to consider before clicking “share”…
This laid the groundwork for their study, where they asked dozens of professionals about their use of social media, and how they decidedly present their professional and personal identities.
In their conversations, the authors found four key strategies at play:
- Open Strategy: This is for those who value transparency and authenticity first and foremost. (There’s that word again!) They post whatever comes to mind without reservation. The risks involved in this method sort of go without saying. (Cue your boss scrolling through your Vegas pics.)
- Audience Strategy: For those who are more apt to keep their professional and personal networks separate, these users keep their separate worlds on different platforms. For example, this user may be unreserved and unedited on Facebook, deflecting friend requests from coworkers; instead, she will connect with her professional contacts on LinkedIn and Twitter. But the audience strategy can become muddled within our fluid networks… People who begin as friends can later become coworkers, or even bosses. Our “work friends” can transform into our “real life” friends, and so on.
- Content Strategy: This is for those who feel compelled to accept friend requests from
professional contacts, and therefore want to be more mindful of the content they post. These users post information and photos that maintain an image of professionalism. The flaw in this strategy is of course that content can feel impersonal and inauthentic, taking away the user’s open space to express herself freely.
And then we get to the most sophisticated strategy, recommended by the authors of this article:
- Custom Strategy: With this strategy, users manage both their audience and their content. For example, a Facebook user can create two lists, one personal and another professional. When posting, the user can select which list gets to see this particular post. Users protect their professional reputations while still maintaining an honest and lively Facebook identity. The authors also cite Google+ as a tool designed to facilitate this precise thing, allowing users to create separate “circles” of friends, colleagues, etc.
While I’m board with tailoring custom content for varying audiences, I think the authors neglect to mention one of the key problems that would come up within the custom strategy: Not all platforms allow this type of content management. I can’t opt to post photos for only some of my followers on Instagram. There are no list functions. Similarly, if I post something to My Story on Snapchat, all of my followers can see it, no exclusions.
For this reason, I think I align most closely with audience strategy. My content is tailored to my specific audiences. On Facebook, this would be my older relatives who want to see life updates and family photos, and people I’ve met over the years who I generally don’t care about engaging with but somehow are still my “friends.” On Instagram, I am more unedited, more of my authentic self, where my followers are people I typically engage with in the offline world, and are the people I want to share my life with. On Snapchat, my audience is my closest circle of friends, where I interact without any reservations or filters (of the censoring kind, at least).
It almost feels like a workaround, but setting boundaries via these platform fences is what I’m most comfortable with for now. But as social evolves and encompasses, I think this strategy will have to adapt too. To achieve authenticity, we must expose bits and pieces of ourselves. Deciding who gets to see which bits and pieces remains the challenge.