Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to mix work and private life on social media: tips for finding the right balance

The picture says: Don't forget to unfriend your boss when the weekend begins... Loesje

If you are a professional engaging in social media you need to find a balance between the sharing of private and professional information and bringing together or separating different networks; networks of friends and colleagues. Inherent in social media is that there is no clear separation between work and private life, because usually you have only one account on eg Facebook or Twitter. On that account you may be followed by friends and family on the one hand, but also by people from various professional networks. When you have a mix of people, what will you post? Pictures of the children? Professional articles? Or a mix? Personally, I don't have a dilemma on Twitter which I mainly use as a professional network about social and informal learning. On Facebook it is more tricky for me. I started on Facebook with mostly people from my international professional communities (eg Km4dev), but now there are more and more friends on Facebook. Do I hence share my vacation or share more about the content of my work? and I do post in Dutch, English or Spanish?. I end up sharing very little. I suspect that for many young people the dilemma will be reverse: they have a private network of friends on social media and beyond may later become active as a professional.

Different identities
As a basis, it is good to also look to see how you're separating - private- worklife in general in life. What are your different identities / caps you are wearing?. Everyone has their own different identities as family member, professional, friend, expert in ICT or enthusiastic music connoisseur, which identity in which you engage online? Do you know who you are and what you stand for? From my past experience working in international cooperation, I am quite used to a blurred boundary between private life and work. You know a lot of about your colleagues private lives in international developmen, from, for instance, driving 5 hours in the car together .... and in your free time you talk again about the work. Josien Kapma told me once that for farmers it is actually quite normal to integration private life and work, and that it is actually a separation which only began with the industrial revolution. If you are used not so strict separation will also be easier online more mixing. On a similar note a new job may bring about a new identity or new focus. That does require you to build a new network online. 

Separating different identities online 
If you clearly have different identities which are hard to mix and would like to separate them online, there are different options:
  1. You can choose to have 2 different accounts. For instance, in primary schools is it often recommended to have a private account and a teacher's account. Eventually you may not want all your students to know about your parties. On the other hand, there is a Dutch professor Mooi who deliberately invites students to his facebook profile and also talks about concerts he has been too and other personal interests. Mooi: "I chose to present myself as a person and to see how students would react. I started posting inspiring images with captions, but soon I noticed that students were open to conversation." Another reason for separate accounts may be language, eg a Dutch and english twitter account. I mix Dutch and English tweets but are still struggling. 
  2. Beside having different accounts you can use some features like lists on Twitter or Google + circles to distinguish networks via one account.  
  3. You could also make a distinction in social networks used for private or professional engagement, such as Facebook for personal and Twitter for professional contacts. 
Here you will find 5 more tips to separate private and professional lives online. And here's also a blogpost with some figures on how people separate their professional and private lives.

Showing your unique professional perspective
Balancing between work and private life in social media is not just about your personal life and sharing your hamster or not but it is also about showing your personal color and unique views as a professional, your unique perspective. Do you share what you feel strongly about as a professional or do you neutrally retweet others without stating your opinion or view? I always try to give my opinion about things I share. I think it is also better for people to make a decision whether to click on something you share. See this tweet about a certain presentation of where I indicate slide 5 is funny.

Being honest and open versus thinking about your personal branding / clients/ people's feelings  What makes social media so compelling are the real stories, and those stories may be both personal and professional. Through social media people share their own stories, which give a different insight into somebody's life compared to eg. scientific articles. The question here is what you like to show. Recently I participated in the blogpraat chat where this was also a question: How can you blog about a sensitive situation at work without it being recognizable to colleagues? This is something I myself am also struggling with. On the one hand, because you do not want people to recognize themselves when the situation is sensitive. On the other hand, because you also want to create a certain professional image. While those 'war stories' about difficulties are often the most powerful stories. How open do you want to be? And it's even harder if you active on behalf of an organization

Balance between online and offline  
Furthermore, of course you also have to find a balance investing in online social media versus face-to-face contacts. When I am too much online I find it boring, when I am too busy I can't find the time to blog.. When you have to meet many deadlines it might be wise to put all social media off ... and yet keep some light engagement. You might need to meet and talk with new contacts on Twitter. Also here you need to find the right balance. 

NB. Input and inspiration for this blogpost gained during our 8 month course de leergang leren en veranderen met sociale media

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