Can We Separate our Online Personal and Professional Lives?

Went to PodCampBoston4 this weekend. Everyone is working on the “next big thing” -what is “social media”? What does it mean? How is it affecting all of us? How far should it go? This weekend helped me answer a question – when social media enters the arena, should we keep our personal and professional lives separate? My conclusion: it is too late, do not even bother.

First off, it is no easy task. Some people stick to the idea that Facebook is for friends and family and LinkedIn is for co-workers and professionals. This is a nice idea, but since when are we not allowed to be friends with our co-workers? If we are friends with people we work with, what category do they belong? Do we (gasp) deny their friend request? That would surely cause tension in the work place. “I’m sorry but I cannot friend you on Facebook because we work together.” I do not think so. There is also the notion of keeping two accounts – two blogs, two Twitter accounts – what is next? Two identities?  All it takes is a couple of retweets and everyone finds out that Batman is Bruce Wayne.

You have no control.

What I mean here is it is fine to keep the membership separate, putting your friends and family on Facebook and clients and co-workers on LinkedIn, but do not think you are fooling anyone. Also, do not think you can keep each group from seeing things about you from the other group.

The tough part about this welding of work and home is the boundary issue, closely followed by the judgment issue. For example, on an online parenting community someone posted this question, “I found a great nanny, but after I googled her name some racy pictures came up of her on Facebook, should I still hire her?” The community responded mostly on the neutral side, but quite a few responded that young people do not take things too seriously, and what is inappropriate to you may not be inappropriate to them, so forgo judgment. Another, “What she does in her private life is her private life. If she does her job well, who cares?” Frankly, I was a bit taken aback by this. I had anticipated parents to have an uproar and urge the original poster to pass on the naughty nanny.

This all brings me back to PodCampBoston. At one of the first sessions, one person made a very insightful comment (did not catch her name but if this is you, let me know for credit). Paraphrasing her, “Americans are so behind on this. Just because someone does something in her life that is not mainstream, does not mean she is not capable of functioning in mainstream society. Europeans are much more ready to understand this.”

I agree. Thinking back on Web 1.0 (remember that?) I hired a great web master for a financial company who is a pagan priestess (sorry E. if I get the title wrong). She does her job exceedingly well. Why not?

Most of us (or maybe just me) are not in the Batman/Bruce Wayne dilemma of personal and private life. My final thoughts are to follow the rule that, “anything you put on the internet will be seen by everyone” balanced with “be who you are and be proud of it!”