PR Insider: Brand YOU – Balancing between Personal and Professional in Social Media

Peter LaMotte
Peter LaMotte

Social media offers us a unique opportunity to combine our personal and professional interests into a single online persona. But along with that opportunity comes risk, and as history has shown us, it’s all too easy to share too much — or the wrong thing — on social media. Thankfully, creating a strong personal brand online can be achieved by striking a balance between letting your personality shine through and maintaining a level of professionalism. Let’s take a look at a few do’s and don’ts worth considering as you’re cultivating your own social media brand. 

DO remain professional. To balance your social media persona, you should maintain your professionalism even when you are making highly personal comments. Your goal in any social media communication is to craft a message that engages readers, and to be aware of how your message may be perceived differently than you intend.

Unless you are intentionally trying to be aggressive or controversial — which is the modus operandi for a small but growing number of social media participants — you want to avoid intentionally fanning the flames of a disagreement or stirring up controversy in a situation where it is dying down.

DON’T alienate or aggravate. It’s possible to take part in an online talk about a controversial subject and remain professional, but it all comes down to the way you deliver the message. When approaching a potentially hot button or controversial topic, your goal should be to further intelligent discussion or elevate the conversation without alienating or aggravating.

DO show your true personality. Your social media persona should reflect who you really are — so if you love gourmet Italian food and are an expert in foreign policy, your social media presence can and should reflect that. Social media is an extension of who you are in reality, and while some may try and create social media presences that falsify or exaggerate who they are, over time the truth will rise to the surface — where, it’s important to remember, colleagues and current and future employers will be able to see.

DON’T be surprised if expressing your personal views leads to professional consequences. Perhaps you feel very strongly about a controversial topic like immigration reform or abortion rights. If you post your personal opinions on topics like these on social media, there’s a real risk that you will alienate and/or aggravate someone with whom you have a professional relationship — and this aggravation may translate into a strained work relationship or even loss of work.

You certainly have the right on social media to share your personal opinions on topics that are important to you, but do so with the full awareness of what may happen as a result. If a client or potential client disagrees with your personal opinion, they may choose to work with someone else who didn’t make their strong feelings as well known. 

DO embrace a sense of humor. Is it a good idea to show your sense of humor in social media situations? Not only is it okay, it’s encouraged! You must realize, however, that jokes can lose their context in a digital format, plus, humor is subjective — what you find hilarious may fall flat with your followers. If you have concerns about a particular joke or witty comment, consider trying it out in person with a colleague first. 

DON’T think that hiding from social media is an option. Considering the potential consequences of making a social media faux pas or mistake, some people may be tempted to avoid social media altogether in an effort to keep their brand safe — but that isn’t how social media works. Social media is the Wild West, and it isn’t going anywhere. There’s a good chance that someone’s having conversations about you or your business, and that you will ultimately be brought into one of those conversations whether you’re a willing participant or not. It’s better to be part of the conversation with your point of view represented than to have a conversation take part about you in your absence.

Avoiding social media now just increases your learning curve and the chance that you will inadvertently make a mistake when you are finally forced to join the conversation. You have a vested interest in being an active part of conversations about your personal or professional brand, so it makes sense to become a willing participant sooner, rather than later.

Striking the Right Balance is Key to Social Media Success

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to social media — but there are some things that you can do to strike the right balance between your personal and professional personas. Doing things like remaining professional, letting your personality shine through, having a sense of humor, and being aware of how your personal opinion may impact you professionally will all lead you in the right direction toward continued social media success.

Peter LaMotte is a Senior Vice President at LEVICK, a digital marketing agency in Washington, D.C. He is also a contributing author to LEVICK Daily. Follow him: @PeterLaMotte