Separate But Equal: Juggling the Personal and Professional with Social Media

By Melanie Eversley, Rewrite Reporter at USA Today, DJTF Treasurer

At first, it was a novelty.

You sent out your first “tweet” and your eight followers – including your best friend, your cousin Skip and two coworkers – learned you were “proud of making a successful bowl of guacamole.”

But in time, your use of social media blossomed. You sent out links via Facebook and Twitter to the latest postings from your blog and to the news stories you’d written for your employer’s website. You connected not only to dozens of relatives and every friend from elementary school on, but also to just as many business contacts.

So what do you do when you’ve grown to hundreds or even thousands of followers or “friends” from your personal and professional lives? Journalists, authors and writers advocated separate accounts for personal dealings and business or, if you’re going to mix it up, avoiding controversial or negative postings that can get you into trouble – especially if you work for a mainstream news organization that demands objectivity in your work.

Author, screenwriter and former Miami Herald journalist Tananarive Due is one of those whose friends and professional contacts are comingled. She says she is making it work for her.

“Most of my friends are readers. Many of them are writers. There are also some family members, old friends and Hollywood contacts,” Due, who lives in the Los Angeles area, says of her activity on Facebook.

“These groups have very different interests, so I try to mix it up,” she says. “I post personal photos with my family, for example. I post silly thoughts, movies I’ve seen, or observations. That keeps it ‘real.’ “

Due uses Facebook to update followers on the progress of her writing, her books and movies being planned from her work, to draw followers to new entries on her website, tananarivedue.com, and her blog, tananarivedue.blogspot.com, to promote events and to advertise writing coach services offered by her and her husband, Steven Barnes, at diamondhour.com. She also maintains a fan page on Facebook for Tennyson Hardwick, the star character of three of her mystery novels.

Due says Facebook is her most reliable tool for readers and potential clients, but she is still figuring out how best to use it and other social media. She uses a program called statcounter.com that helps her track exactly how many hits have come from Facebook.

What helps her keep her friends and followers blended is that she stays away from negative or potentially controversial postings, she says.

“I do political postings I care about, but not often,” Due explains. “I try to celebrate on my page as much as possible, i.e. a new 18-year-old writer I support.”

Others maintain separate personal and professional accounts.

Tiffany Alexander works for CNN.com, and also is a children’s book author and blogger. She maintains separate personal and professional accounts on Facebook and Twitter, as well as a fan page on Facebook.

Alexander uses her professional accounts to educate readers about her characters and update them about publishing news and public appearances. The accounts also help her draw traffic to tiffanyalexander.com and childrensband.com, the website where customers can order her children’s books.

She also takes advantage of the privacy settings on Facebook that allow users to control who on Facebook or outside of Facebook can access information on their pages.

“There are a few coworkers in my personal network, but very few, and they are people I consider friends,” says Alexander, who lives in Atlanta.

“Actually, most people I work with are blocked from being able to access any of my personal information,” she continues. “My Facebook page won’t show up for them even if they search for me. If they want to connect with me, they can join my coworker network. They can access my fan page on Facebook and a few of them are fans.”

Author, activist, blogger and filmmaker Yasmin Shiraz uses Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn to keep followers abreast of film screenings and her speaking engagements, and to draw traffic to yasminshiraz.net. She says she keeps everything professional.

“Since I am in fact selling the Yasmin Shiraz brand, I remain true to it,” says Shiraz, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. “I will admit that I’m not as opinionated on my LinkedIn account … As I learn more about social media, I feel that it’s important to remain true to my brand and so I’m intimately involved in every tweet, every post, every comment.”

Journalist and public relations specialist Greg Wright also is a huge proponent of keeping separate accounts for the personal and the professional.

Wright, who also lives in the Washington, D.C., area, is a senior public relations specialist for the National Association of Social Workers and maintains the organization’s blog, socialworkersspeak.org. As a freelance writer, he also has written several pieces advising people how to use social media to their advantage. Wright uses Facebook and Twitter to send out links to freelance pieces he’s written for magazines or websites or for new blog postings.

He points out that people can use LinkedIn to position themselves as an expert in an area by addressing questions posted to the site and taking part in the discussion boards. He also is an advocate of the Facebook fan page, which is not difficult to set up, he said.

Wright cautions, however, that while social media might seem like a great new invention that can boost marketing, it’s important to keep it all in perspective.

“You shouldn’t overdo this and don’t be online all the time,” Wright advises. “It’s not the end all and be all, it is just a tool.”

Wright continues, “It does not replace getting on the phone and saying, ‘Hey, let’s go have a meal.’ Some people, the only way they socialize is on Facebook. They don’t even hang out. That’s how they basically interact. People are becoming more and more isolated.”

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