This morning I happened to catch my fellow Midwesterner Amber Naslund’s post on walking the fine line between the personal and the professional in social media and online in general. I started to comment, then realized my comment was quickly turning into a post that I’ve been meaning to write for this blog anyway, so…here goes.

Social media plays such a fascinating role in our lives. When you immerse yourself in the social media environment, you really do walk a fine line between personal and professional- because for many of us, it’s both. So how…and where…do you draw the line?

Secrets

This guy doesn't want to know too much about your personal life. Either that or he's doing insider trading right now.

Where’s the line?

I draw a hard line for myself on a few topics:
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Sex
  • And anything that I deem TOO personal, specifically, I’d never write anything about my personal finances or my relationship with any family members or friends other than in the most glowing, positive terms.
That said, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks I’m not friendly and personal in social media. I share a bunch of what’s going on in my life in work and play, but just not in these areas. Why avoid them?

Reason #1: Religion and Politics are divisive.

Divisive topics can be dangerous to a brand. I don’t want potential awesome clients to decide not to work with me because I’m affiliate with a particular political party or hold specific religious beliefs. I don’t talk about those things when I work with clients and they have little to nothing to do with how I do my job. So they shouldn’t impact whether someone decides to work with me. Take a strong stand politically, and you’ll pretty much alienate half of your audience right then and there. That’s dumb.

Reason #2: There’s personal…and then there’s personal.

I love talking about the fun stuff Leo and I do. We hang out at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, we have dinner with family, we rumba in the kitchen while we cook dinner, we travel around the world…we do lots of awesome things and it’s really fun to share that stuff with my friends and with my audience. That’s all stuff from my personal life.
But I would never, ever post in social media or anywhere online about an argument with my husband. Do we have them? Sure. What couple doesn’t? But they’re few and far between and in our rock-solid marriage, disagreements are just hiccups that barely register in the grander scheme of our life. Posting about them would not only mis-characterize my relationship, but also would invade the privacy I share with my dear hubster and, I think, would make others uncomfortable. Same goes for my relationships with family and friends.

Reason #3: Safety first.

The truth is, I don’t know everyone who follows me. I don’t publicly post photos of my toddler niece and nephew (though they’re the most adorable kids of all time) and I don’t post when I’m leaving town. The safety of my family and my home come before my need to share anything interesting that I’m doing. Period.

A Good Rule of Thumb

Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if what you’re about to say is something you’d want others to say about you or something you’d want on the news (even if dancing in me kitchen isn’t at all newsworthy, I wouldn’t care if they put it on the evening shows. In fact, it would be pretty awesome if they did). When you have an audience of any size, you’re broadcasting to them. You’re literally standing in front of however many people are following you and telling them all this stuff about yourself. Do you want them to know this?

And more importantly, is whatever you’re sharing consistent with your brand?

Close talker

This is an example of a potential close talker. Just so you know.

The Bottom Line: Authenticity and Subjectivity.

For me, the bottom line is that I strive to be authentic in all things. When people who have only seen me online and in social media meet me in person, I want them to see that I am the same in every medium. Whether I’m on Twitter, Facebook, blogging, standing in front of a room and speaking, or sitting at a table with friends, I’m still me. I want that to come across.

At the end of the day, what you choose to share online is always going to be subjective. Where each of us draws the line is largely dependent on our cultures, our business topic, and our level of comfort in sharing. There’ll always be that one guy who shares a little too much, just as there’s always that guy who stands a little too close to you in conversation. But whether you’re the “close talker” or have tendencies to be too detached, make sure you create some rules and guidelines for your own online participation…otherwise, you may have regrets later.