Your professional life affects your personal social media

Our lives are complicated so our use of social media is complicated because it is an extension of how we live our lives.

Being yourself and being social are both necessary for an authentic experience. But just how authentic should you be? Does social mean being casual?

Context helps determine those answers. That’s how we have lived our lives both before and after social media came along. So we can be different but still authentic at home with family, out on the town with friends or at a meeting with colleagues.

The good news is that, though the lines are blurring, we can pretty much still use different social media for different social circles. For example, LinkedIn is where you live your professional online and Instagram is where you connect with friends. Or you might have more than one Twitter account–one for the professional you and one that connects with others who love to knit.

We’re just 1 person

We’re all still just one person though no matter how many genuine personas we may have.

How we live our personal life can affect our professional life and vice versa. For better and worse.

Before we lived and shared so much of our lives online and through social media, you could usually keep your private and public lives separate fairly easily. We had more control over how likely one aspect of who you are might conflict with another aspect of who you are.

Now it’s easier for someone to see more than one aspect of how you live your life. That makes living an already complicated life trickier.

The good news is that we can still have control over the potential for one aspect of our life to splash over into another if we want it.

Personal use of social media contributes to your professional life

I’ve always been a big believer that your personal use of social media influences your professional use. That’s especially true if you are new to social media or to a new form of social media. In most cases, a work mindset for communicating is more about delivering messages not interacting as a person with other people. But social media allows us to build relationships and communities so it helps to know how a person uses a form of social media before you use it in your professional category.

But if in your personal life you use social a human rights advocate, does that mean that you use social media professionally the same way? It probably has similarities if you work for an organization like Amnesty International but not as directly if you are working for a community foundation in Vancouver. Yet someone in either organization can learn lessons for how to use social media more effectively from their personal use of it to defend human rights.

But if that same person gets a job working for Global Affairs Canada, you’ll almost certainly see a significant change to how they use social media personally. An activist approach to defending human rights on personal use of social media would not be appropriate nor tolerated.

Would you want your boss to see that post?

Good advice for making decisions on your personal use of social media is: Would you want your mother to see that?

But as a professional you might be better to think of this advice as: Would you want your boss to see that?

Yes, even if you are using social media in a personal way.

Out of 100 times, it may not matter 99 times. But for that one time it does, are you prepared to live with the consequences if you need to? People are fired or disciplined at work because of their personal use of social media.

Some avoid that risk by avoiding social media. Yet that may also have consequences for your career. So what do you do? Here’s some good advice for master networker Paul Nazareth:

“Just tweet like you’re speaking with a stranger at an industry conference. Sharing articles from your organization and business media, talking about leaders they should meet, trends in your sector and unlike a conversation you can include an instant link to that resource! Networking is about being of value, Twitter helps you network better.”

Paul Nazareth, Why It’s Time You Joined Twitter

Paul’s advice is a good safe way to get started though I’m sure he doesn’t recommend strictly censoring what you say. I know for example some of his thoughts on the community he lives in. That’s a good thing because it shows me another aspect of who he is and it shows he cares about his community.

Changes to our professional context can influence personal choices

Paul Nazareth changed jobs in 2014. He went from working for a big bank to working for Canada Helps. I didn’t notice for awhile because my experience of his use of social media did not change. But it could have.

Maybe if Paul won a lottery jackpot, the context of his life might change enough to create a different set of parameters for his personal use of social media. But maybe not.

I can’t predict what might happen. I don’t know him well enough.

I do have enough life experience to know that had social media been around for my entire adult life that my use would have reflected different sets of circumstances. So I’m confident that as life changes–personally or professionally–it affects our decisions for how to use social media in either capacity.

I expect there’d be a difference between my use of social media as a university student from when I worked on Parliament Hill for an MP. Even on similar topics, I’d likely make different choices about if/when to say something and how to say it. I’d need to take care that what I said might be interpreted differently or reflect in an undesirable way on my employer. Criticizing the party leader, for example, would not have been acceptable when working for the government even if that was something I thought was ok as a volunteer.

When I later worked for a private sector communications firm with mostly retailers as clients, I’d likely have felt freer to be partisan on social media but not free to comment on our clients.

It’s not a question of being authentic or inauthentic. My point is that our use of social media reflects how we live our lives. In both aspects of our lives, some of our choices about what is appropriate is influenced by the context of our lives, our relationship with our audience and the setting for our interaction.

There’s no doubt that our personal use of social media is influenced by the professional context or our lives.

My own experience

My remarks here are largely theoretical.

I’ve been my own boss for the last four and a half years–roughly the same period as most of my social media use. So there’s been a sense of freedom in how I use social media to make my voice heard on personal passions and interests.

Had I been Director of Communications for the YMCAs of Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo for the last five years, I’m sure I would have made different choices. Just as I am sure my future choices for my personal use social media will be influenced by whatever my professional context may be at that time.

But even if I continue running my own business within a similar context to the past, I expect that my personal use of social media will be different in the future. Over the past six years, I have observed many changes to my use of social media as I learn what works best for me and also learn from my mistakes.

And that’s a lifetime process especially with how our rapidly changing technology disrupts how we live our lives–presenting us with new opportunities, challenges and pitfalls. I look forward to both building upon successes and learning from mistakes as I continue to use digital communications to make my community and the wider world better places to live.

What do you think? What has been your experience?

Does your professional life affect your personal use of social media? Have you noticed a difference when there’s been a shift in the professional context for your life?