Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Blending Professional and Personal on Facebook

This is a big question for business people and few have managed to answer it completely, although there seems to be a consensus that the two should not mix.

Truth - I am not a huge Facebook user (I have probably a dozen friends, most of whom have found me, a mix of professional and personal) but I am an Admin on two professional sites and then my own.

As an independent, if I hide my page then people won’t be able to find me – and some of my company information is on there. So it’s available.

Remember Bristol Palin’s boyfriend whose MySpace page, until Jon Stewart found it, trumpeted how he wanted to party all day and night and never get married. We’ve also heard the stories about kids who applied to college and didn’t get in because some admissions officer decided to check out their MySpace or Facebook page. We all have to remember these are public spaces.

My “Facebook Friends” so far haven’t written anything that I wouldn’t want anyone else to see. We save that for emails – which we shouldn’t do either.

We are all experimenting with social networking and I’m not sure that anyone knows the right answer. For me - what am I supposed to tell clients or prospective ones if they want to Friend Me? Thanks but no thanks?

I did get an email from an association president in Chicago via Facebook who represents a group I do not think of as eco-friendly. He was trying to reach out to science teachers and asked if he could Friend Me.

I politely declined but sent him to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) page and the Coalition on Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) page. I also sent him a bio and my web address which he dutifully said he passed on to his PR director. One hand washes the other.

A recent discussion on the ASAE listserv and some polling of friends, colleagues and clients showed that we are all struggling with how to manage personal and professional. There does not seem to be a simple solution. I’ve left out names from the listserv since it’s for ASAE members only. Here is what I learned:

You Can Separate the Two In Some Form - A number of people I talked to use LinkedIn for business and keep Facebook for personal use. It does have controls so that people can’t see your page if you don’t Friend Them. You can also set it up so your Real Friends can see some information and your Professional Friends can see others. I have no idea how to do this but one of my clients who is getting an MBA told me he does it.

Independents Seem To Use Their Page for A Mix of Both - A small business owner echoed my issue. She said “I often receive requests from business contacts to connect as Friends. I'd prefer to keep them separated, but it looks like many others use Facebook for all purposes.”

Some Have a Personal and a Professional Page – The simplest way to do it is to have two pages – one for business and one for professional. Since so many organizations now have Facebook pages, it makes more sense to do it this way, to allay confusion.

This raises other issues too – Do you want to have your professional affiliation on your personal page (after all it is another form of contact. What if your company name is the same as your real name – will that confuse everyone?)

One big discussion among associations is that members started Facebook pages and they weren’t part of the “Brand” so they wanted to know whether others had asked them to stop. Most seemed reluctant to ask their members to stop – after all it was a form of member outreach and kind of flattering. The consensus was they had to learn to live with a lack of control – and might learn something from the chatter.

And then of course the biggest issue to me is What Really Is the Point of Facebook?

And that’s the question I cannot answer except for the data that I keep collecting.

It’s the most popular social networking tool

It helps you bond with clients/members, etc. in new ways

It gets you in front of people you would not reach any other way

It is a way to keep in touch with a broad network of people – who may be friends/potential clients/real clients – in a cool, fun, way

You’ve got to be on it to figure it out

The fastest growing group on Facebook is 40-plus

My 13 year-old son is less adamant about having a Facebook page because his mother is on it – and as more parents go on I’m sure the kids will leave and found something else.

And that’s my post for this holiday week. Happy Holidays to All.


  1. I just recently set up a second Face Book page for professional-related stuff. While Linked In is supposed to be the professionals version of Face Book, I don't think it has reached that level yet.

    You are exactly right, you have to do it to understand how it all works. The lightbulb has finally turned on for me, after many months of learning about social networking and playing around on FB. Now I need to put it in the context of my association and how it can benefit us and our members. All while trying to calm the fears of the higher-ups. Most of them see the benefit but have this underlying mistrust of the medium.

  2. Sarah - Thanks for your comment. One of the things I've noted from the associations that I belong to on Facebook is that I never hear from them. They are all missing an opportunity to communicate regularly with their fans - and of course it has to be a topic of interest. Best -

  3. Well I think using both for similar info type is redundant itself... but for most it's about beeing accessible in "any" format possible... if such is your goal, then ya welcome...

    It depends to the level of socializing we're aiming at... I hav a Linked in and would go facebook 'cause friends would suggest it as a way to share pics we got (on professional venues) to share from... but once again comes the issue of Privacy and sneaking "friends" which is yet a troubling fact... based on what's out there in the news about cons of those social networks...