Personal and Professional Personas in Social Networks

In the Facebook 210 course I describe a way to use Facebook’s Friend lists to create a “work-safe” profile that is less likely to cause professional problems, when that high school classmate or college buddy tags you in a questionable photo or writes on your wall. This led to a thoughtful comment from Erik Giberti:

I’ve sent you a friend request and of course your on my limited profile. I find this discussion interesting because there’s a fine line between having a personal persona and a professional persona. I go back and forth on this idea, but I believe that they are really one in the same. The way I am at work is often reflected by the way I am when I’m not at work and vice versa. The reality is, many folks create an artificial “professional” persona that masks who they are in the “real world”. It has been my experience that employers and co-workers can usually tease out trends in your real life personality and spot the fake portions of the professional persona. What’s left is really something closer to your personal persona. So why not just present that first and save everyone the time?

I think Erik has a good point, and personally I don’t have a problem with anyone seeing my whole profile. My life is an open book. And I think the ethic of transparency we are coming to expect from corporations also has some implications for personal life. In fact, that’s why I like Facebook as opposed to MySpace or Second Life. In Facebook people almost always go by the name their parents gave them; in MySpace that’s not necessarily so, and in Second Life you are represented by an avatar and aren’t allowed to use your real name. (I did recently try Second Life, I think my name is Allen Atlass.)

On the other hand, even aside from the potentially problematic posts and tags from others, many people put their religious beliefs and political leanings on their Facebook profiles, and many businesses want to keep politics and religion out of the workplace. You don’t typically put that information on your business card.

LinkedIn doesn’t have anything in its personal profiles that would indicate religious or political persuasion, unless of course you have worked vocationally in religious or political pursuits. For Facebook to be an effective business alternative to LinkedIn (I use both Facebook and LinkedIn, but Facebook to a much greater extent), it needs to duplicate this functionality.

That was the point of Facebook 210 and the subsequent SMUG Research Project; creating an example of how you can avoid broadcasting this personal information to co-workers, customers or clients, but yet share it with your non-work friends.

SMUG students who read my post on religious podcasting have a window to my theological beliefs, and because of my previous career information (which is available on both my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles), they would correctly infer my political sympathies. (Hint: I don’t have a direct psychological stake in the outcome of tomorrow’s Pennsylvania contest between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama.) Which leads me to reiterate that the views expressed on this blog are mine, not those of my employer.

So Erik is right to a point; maintaining a sanitized professional persona may not be consistent with the ethic of transparency. One might even call it a matter of integrity in the literal sense. Integrity means being a single person, not having a compartmentalized life. If you’re maintaining a professional profile on LinkedIn and a personal one on Facebook, with completely different friends, you’re already creating this division. Facebook 210 just tells you how to create that separation on a single platform.

I think the key to what Erik says is that a professional persona shouldn’t “mask” who you are in real life. But there’s a difference between hiding information about yourself and not actively promoting things that might be stumbling blocks for some acquaintances.

What do you think?

Be Sociable, Share!

Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of nine, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.