Is There Still A Personal/Professional Line?

“I feel a client should respect the fact that a personal Twitter or Facebook account is different from when your meeting with them or representing their brand.” – Marcus Andrews in a comment

An interesting division became apparent last week when I asked “Who are you online?” Of the different people who commeted, roughly half said that they acted differently online to offline. Some of the comments from that side:

  • “I am careful with networks that are open and searchable (Twitter, e.g.) to not say anything that might hinder me in the future.”
  • “I pride myself on staying true to my beliefs, but I will change what I say and how I say it depending on the group I’m in.”
  • “I try to keep it industry related as I’m trying to learn as much as I can from all of the PR professionals that I’m fortunate to have access to.”
  • “Regardless of the medium, I always assume my professional contacts may come across what I say and how I behave online.”
  • “I definitely act more professional online than I do in my everyday life.”
  • “Personally I am very different online than offline. It’s not that I’m a bad person or anything offline, I’m just less colorful when I’m online.”

It’s hard to stay professional at all times. Working late last Friday night, I got mad at my computer when it started playing up just as I was about to leave the office, and I vented about it on Twitter. I then got mad at myself (offline) for venting online. Does that reflect poorly on me? Or is it perfectly acceptable to show that you’re human occasionally? Meanwhile, I know I frequently self-censor after re-considering things I’m about to post.

This raises some interesting questions when it comes to companies using Internet research during their recruitment:

  • If online content is written with employers in mind, does it really reflect the person?
  • Should we disregard online content when recruiting, or is this another way to find the people with the smarts to be professional online?
  • Perhaps most intriguingly: Should employers and clients respect the line between professional and personal? Does that line even exist any more?

What do you think?

25 Responses toIs There Still A Personal/Professional Line?

  • Well Dave, I think you already know my take on this, but I’ll leave a comment anyway. For me, I am who I am online as I am offline – for the most part anyway. The only difference is this: Occasionally, I may be a bit more shy in person. I take a little time to warm up to people and sometimes keep my thoughts to myself a bit more – especially being new to the industry and relatively new to social media. I think that being online allows me to open up a bit more and let my personality shine through. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m more or less professional online – I certainly don’t think I’m ‘unprofessional’, just more relaxed than I might be while sitting in a client meeting. But who you see online, is generally who I am day to day. I hope that employers and clients will see that as a comfort, I’m genuine, both online and off.

  • I think this is an interesting post, and one that really hits home for me. Right now, I’m trying to draw a big, thick black line between what is my employers business and what isn’t. The way I see it, they have my services from 8-5, but not outside of those hours. Unfortunately, a lot of what I do outside those hours is blog, so it’s very public. Though I don’t mention my employer in any online stuff I do, they still think they have a claim over it and often try to control/censor what I write. I’ve also found that employers are very supportive of blogging until you become popular – then you become a threat. That’s happened to me on more than one occasion – everything I say is find until someone else actually reads it!

  • I was just thinking about the difference between Internet age mindset vs. Industrial age mindset the other day. With all the buzz about social media and gen Y, I think the single most important differentiation is not age, not adoption speed, but how comfortable we are to blur the line between our personal and professional life. All the doctrine about brands being on Twitter, company representative coming to social spaces eventually comes down to “mingle with the rest of us, have some fun!” Ever since Internet walked into our daily life, we constantly mix work and play, business and entertainment, b/c the switch can be done in a blink of eyes. And fortunately, many of us find ourselves more productive this way. As the network expands and enriches, the line will probably fade even more. However, with that said, I think clients and employers should respect the line according to how the employee wants to be seen. If the employee devotes to the job, does more than punch the clock everyday, his/her personal network might widen the horizon both on & offline.

  • This post is very interesting and relevant to many people. Having recently graduated from college, I am constantly torn about Facebook. I have been on Facebook for five years now and first got on with other college students solely for personal reasons. Now, not only are influential business people and brands getting on Facebook that could potentially affect your career but parents are as well. I agree with Kerri, you should be the person you are online as well as offline and shouldn’t be ashamed; however, I do see a disadvatage for those who are younger and still “sewing their wild oats” to have to delete or change their profiles because there might be/probably are pictures of them doing non-business like activities. The reason most college students joined Facebook in the first place was to share pictures and make connections solely based on fun activities.

  • Whether or not there should be a line, everyone should recognize that there isn’t and act accordingly.

    Set aside all the talk of your personal brand and all that – this is nothing new. If a client saw you drunk off your ass at a local club, even before the days of teh interweb, that would reflect poorly on you. The internet has made the potential for such exposure greater, to be sure, but it’s nothing new.

    I tend to treat my Facebook profile a little different than my blog or twitter feed but that’s more to do with the main audience. I don’t expect my Facebook profile to be offlimits to potential professional contacts.

    We all play slightly different roles depending on the situation we’re in. That’s not a new development either. I speak differently and act differently when coaching kids hockey than I do at the pub with my friends. But, at the core, it’s all me. If one of my friends saw me coaching (since the inverse is unlikely to be true) I’d like to think they could see the same essential person. More importantly, I’m happy to defend either of those roles to anyone who asks.

  • I worked for a few months with an HR consultant company in Toronto and when they did a management workshop and asked who had searched their brand in facebook, twitter or Google, very few people would say they had.
    Now this is quickly changing as people are becoming more interested in their how their ‘brand’ is being received by potential new hires.
    As for the line between what is fair, I think there are two perspectives on this issue. The employers and the (potential) employees.
    The employer has two interests with respect to social media. First, how healthy their ’employment brand’ is, and second, if a (potential) employee has done anything that reflects poorly on their character or will embarrass the company. (a topless photo of you throwing up in a garbage can qualifies in this category.)
    The (potential) employee is looking for a place they can communicate freely – which includes discussions about their current and future workplace.
    As we move forward, I think there will be a meeting in the middle. There will be fewer publicly available drunken photos, as people will realize this reflects poorly on their character.
    And as employers become more educated on social media they will become less conservative in their analysis, after all they benefit from the feedback on their branding.
    This was a fairly active issue at this years HRPA conference and tradeshow, (a gathering of about 4,000 HR professionals in Toronto)

  • From a college student’s perspective, there is no line and it’s absolutely imperative that you act as if everything you ever do online will haunt you later in life.
    Not a week goes by where at least one of my professors alludes to the fact that we need to be very circumspect with what we put online and how that in turn represents who we are. I’ve heard innumerable horror stories (tall tales?) from my peers as well about how Suzy didn’t get the job because her potential employer Googled her and saw things s/he didn’t like.
    So, I certainly don’t censor myself in terms of my personality or sense of humor, for example. I think it’s very important that people get to know me as a human, and not some career seeking bot. But I do make sure that I never cross the line. I think there’s a huge difference between being inappropriate and just being able to be your unique, “colorful” (as one comment put it) self.

  • In response to the comments, which I find all very interesting, raises the most important question: Where is the line of appropriateness vs. inappropriateness? Obviously dancing topless on top of a bar would get you fired as it should. However, there are some professionals/clients out there that would think a drink in a photo is being inappropriate and irresponsible. As a young professional trying to become an established, respected PR professional, it is a process transitioning from college life to professional life and with the invent of facebook, these lines have become even more blurry. With my facebook account I have often times thought, if I can show this to my Mom, then it should be fine to keep posted, or is it really? I don’t want to miss out on any future business ventures from a picture or comment on Facebook.

  • I agree with Joe’s comment that we act differently in different situations no matter what, but it’s still ‘you’ in each situation.
    I am more casual on Facebook where I have a limited audience then I would be on say Twitter or the PR Girlz blog, where it is more public.
    However, I know that I too have “vented” on twitter on occasion. But I think that’s okay, but only to a point. You have to use your judgment I guess, and think if what you’re about to twitter, or post could potentially have negative effects. I think though, in the end, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

  • Even though there is no line, and what you publish becomes, well, public… F**k it, it’s just a matter of time before someone figures out that I’m an asshole, anyway…

  • I have had this disccussion many times about social media and persona/professional behavior. More importantly about the level of openness in general.

    Please indulge my generalization, to all of them there are exceptions.

    The interesting fact is that every generation is more open and shares more hopes, dreams, troubles, challenges in their 20’s than 30’s and less as they age. The social networks are no different, it is not a product of the social network, MYSpace is more open than Facebook, which shares more info than the next generation will. This is true because the people that use it have less life learned caution about what they share. Personality doesn’t change, being true to who you are doesn’t change, you just don’t share as much with as many without really knowing them as you age.

    Many of the attributes assigned to social media are not new, it is just a different school quad, coffee shop, girls night out bar, where people of different ages socialize much as they always have.

  • The answer I have come up with is to conduct much of my personal online life under a various pseudonoms.

    That gives me some sort of control over what casual investigation will reveal about my personal online activities but I do realise that it cannot provide a complete separation.

  • Iman Colakoglu
    ago12 years

    Thanks Dave, your post perfectly summarizes a very problematic dilemma. Yes, this line will always be. Actually, drawing this line is the responsibility of “the online person”. When you give some kinds of special/private information about yourself, you cannot expect people to act as they do not know them. Therefore, you should decide which information can be shared. At this point, every person draws this line differently; thus, this difference clarifies “who you are”. However, as this line is very personal, sometimes parties’ lines do not overlap. That is the problem.

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