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Author: Heidi Cohen




businessman with social media on mobile phone

If you’re like many people, you jumped onto a social media platform and started using it to engage with your friends, family and others. You may have started while still in school without a thought about your future, professional or personal.

As social media continues to mature and new platforms and ways to interact on social media evolve, you must consider the image you want to present professionally and personally.

The key differences between professional and personal social media breaks down as follows:

  • Professional: Social media is your multi-media resume complete with endorsements. It provides you with a platform for building your thought leadership and rolodex.
  • Personal: Social media is a way to engage with family and friends, regardless of their current location. It keeps you connected with people you may have lost contact with otherwise.

While each of us wants to be the star of our own narrative on social media, remember that the way you present yourself, whether professional or personal, should help you achieve specific goals.

Before we examine some critical differences, it’s important to remind you that the Internet has a long memory. What seems like fun at the time may have vastly different repercussions later. This applies to both professional and personal social media interactions.

Stay away from hot button topics such as politics, where possible. As my father taught me, “The best thing you ever said, is the thing you never said.” You never know how others will take something that you stated innocently on social media. (Also, don’t feed the trolls.)

Social Media: Professional VS Personal

Here are 5 ways where your professional social media persona varies from your personal social media persona.

businessman with social media on mobile phone

1. Social media name

Professional:

Use your professional name. This particularly applies to women who may retain their maiden name in business for continuity. For people who have common names, add your profession, location or business (if you’re the owner).

Personal:

Use your real name. If it’s already taken by someone else, choose a version that’s close. Use additional features people know about you such as a nickname. Skip your birthday or graduation year, especially if you’re a woman.

2. Social media images

Decide how you want to be viewed on social media before posting your photograph (as well as when changing it.)

Professional:

Use a professionally taken photograph. Don’t crop yourself out of a group image. While many people use illustrations, consider the image it presents to people who want to see the actual person they’re doing business with.

If you’re managing a business account, then use your logo or other symbolic image associate with your brand.

I love how Kapost’s Jesse Noyes uses his personal photograph coupled with his Kapost team photograph on LinkedIn. It shows how he’s connected to the people he works with. It sends a great message to anyone seeking to work with him. 

Social Media Professional vs Personal

As a point of contrast, NewsCred’s Michael Brenner has a professional photograph on LinkedIn and placed a portrait of his four children above it to portray what’s important to him.

Personal:

Use a photograph where you look happy for your avatar. Many people include their spouse or significant other and/or children to make a statement. This is a personal preference. While you can do this, consider how it appears to strangers who may be looking for you. Again skip the cropped out significant other. People will wonder whose hand is there.

In addition to your avatar, consider how the background image you select represents your personal brand.

David Berkowitz and Peter Shankman are among the proudest dads I know. They both include photographs of their daughters on Twitter.

Please note: I asked  Michael Brenner, David Berkowitz and Peter Shankman if  I could include their children’s photographs as they appeared on social media in this post.  While all of them said yes and I appreciate their permission, in the end, I only linked to the social media profiles. The children are adorable but it’s not my place to display them here.

3. Social media bio

Professional:

Think social media resume. Use keywords that you want people to find you on for business connections and thought leadership. Avoid the overused terms.

Peers and employers will look at you in the context of how you present yourself. They’ll google you before contacting you. What impression do you want to make?

Personal:

Present yourself in a positive way. Spotlight those aspects and interests that you want to connect with others about.

4. Social media connections

Social media connections go two ways. There are the people you want to connect with and the people who want to connect with you. They’re not always the same.

Before reaching out put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Skip the one-size-fits all outreach. Answer: What’s in it for them? 

Professional:

Think about how you plan to use each platform and who you want to attract.

For example, on LinkedIn I only connect with people I’ve met personally and have a real life connection to. I don’t connect with headhunters. I’m no longer seeking a job.

When I come back from conferences and live events. I go through the cards I’ve collected to make social media connections.

Personal:

Consider the people with whom you want to connect. Pew Research shows that most people connect with the people they care most about. The one exception: Parents and children.

5. Social media content

You present a deeper view of yourself with the information and communications you share. (BTW—Here’s how to have a winning social media personality.)

Assess the information in terms of how you want people to view you. Remember, you’re known by the company you keep.

Want to be known by or connect with thought leaders, then follow them (but don’t expect them to connect with you as a friend), share their content and comment on their blogs.

Professional:

Share information that aligns you with your professional areas of interest.

Support your business with your social sharing, where appropriate. Don’t share information that’s not public. Also, don’t look like you’re just a mouthpiece for your promotional department. Add intelligent commentary.

Personal:

Think about how you want to present your private life. Just because social media exists doesn’t mean that you have to share every detail of your life.

Many people are very open about their lives. It’s a personal choice.

You’re allowed your privacy. You don’t have to make your spouse and/or children into public figures.

Consider how you want to handle topics that draw a lot of strong emotions like politics. By contrast, people are often known to be fans of a particular sports team.

Personally, I don’t share information or images of my family. I let friends and family do it themselves. I’m particularly careful with children. I recommend that you get parents’ permission before using or posting their children’s images.

The bottom line is be positive and likeable (to quote Dave Kerpen!)

Remember what your mother taught you: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.

What other distinctions would you make between personal and professional social media?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen





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