How to Separate Your Business and Personal Life on Facebook

If you’re a professional on Facebook, you’ve no doubt collected a mix of contacts that includes colleagues as well as personal friends. The more pervasive that social media becomes in public relations, the more likely it is that your list of friends will even include clients as well. And that creates a dilemma. Not everything you share with close friends is interesting to or appropriate for clients and colleagues. But writing off Facebook as a channel to connect with the people you work with and for can lead to missed opportunities to promote yourself, hear the good ideas of others, and serve your clients’ best interests.

This month, we’re happy to share our quick guide for the next time you think, “Hmm, one of my clients just sent me a friend request, but do I want to bring that much of my personal life into our professional relationship?” Fortunately, these instructions for how to separate your business and personal life on Facebook will work just as well if you ever are faced with a friend request from an old high school acquaintance. Facebook doesn’t have “levels” of friendships, but you can easily create them using what Facebook calls Friend Lists.
Read all the way to the end for some extra thoughts on why we think that PR professionals in particular should be willing to hang their “Open for Business” sign on Facebook.

Setting Up Your Friend Lists

The first step is to go to your Friends tab in Facebook, click “Make a New List,” and name it something easy, like “Colleagues.” Now add someone to that list. (We added a random friend for the sake of demonstration—no need to read anything into it). Your list will have one member. You can return here later to add more people to it.

Adjusting Privacy Settings

Now go to your Privacy Settings tab (under “Settings”) and set the access to something in your profile with obvious stalker potential—or, in a less threatening description, something that you don’t need your boss to be able to check—like your mobile phone number.

Set it so that only your friends can see it. Be sure to exclude your Colleagues – select that list under “Except These People”—and click “Okay.” Now check your work. Go back to your Privacy Settings and use the handy function that lets you view your profile as one of your friends. Type the friend you used as an example.

Notice how that person can’t see your mobile phone number? Now view your profile as someone not on that restricted friend list and notice how your number does appear? (We’ve blocked out Shabbir’s number in this example—although you’re welcome to become his friend on Facebook).

There are settings like this for just about every piece of personal information that you can share on Facebook. Here are some suggestions for how you might want to separate your business and personal Facebook life:

Info Shared with Friends Infor Shared with Colleagues Info Shared with Clients
Photos and Videos Contact Info Basic Information
Wall Status Updates Education and Workplace History
Friend List Links (aka Posted Items)

Adding to Friend Lists on the Fly

How does this work in your daily routine? Whenever you respond to a friend request, you have the opportunity to add that friend to a friend list immediately. Another tip: Whenever you receive a friend request, you can view your friend’s profile before you respond. See how much info they are sharing with you and don’t hesitate to respond in kind.

Strategies for PR Professionals

Start with the obvious: more than 175 million (million!) people actively use Facebook, more than half of Facebook users are outside of college, and the fastest growing demographic is those 30 years old and older. If for no other reason, you should be on Facebook because that’s where everyone else is – where they consume their news, voice their opinion, and connect with their peers.
Now go one level more sophisticated: Facebook is a great place to share your ideas, hear your clients’ ideas, and learn from your colleagues’ ideas. With just a little attention to Friend Lists, you can control exactly who sees what. While your family photos stay private, your daily or weekly Link can be seen by your entire network. And a client who becomes a friend or a trusted advisor? You can promote them to a new Friend List anytime you want.
Finally, we want to stress the fact that you should never put anything online that would have disastrous consequences were it to get out. Nothing confidential, nothing libelous, nothing you wouldn’t publish in a newsletter. Nothing put online ever really goes away, and friend-locking information at the end of the day is only about avoiding inconvenient or awkward conversations.

Further Reading

Our friend Nick O’Neill at The Social Times has a great list of 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know and starts off talking about Friend Lists.
What’s in Facebook’s Terms of Service? Consumer Reports’ Consumerist Blog is investigating just what Facebook is allowed to do with your information. Part I, Part II, and Part III.

This how-to guide was written by Shabbir Imber Safdar and Jason Alcorn, Virilion Inc. Shabbir and Jason spend their days planning, scheming, strategizing, and executing online campaigns for the world’s top non-profits, associations, and Fortune 500 public affairs clients.