Social Media Identity: Personal vs. Professional

I recently had to engage social media not using my personal identity, but under my professional identity. A bit clueless how to proceed, I sent this out on Twitter:

Facing an interesting decision about mixing my personal and professional online personas. I think I need to establish a “professional” ID.

Brian McCartney brought up a great point in response:

A “professional” ID is a good idea but there are things on my personal ID that I might want to share with the professional world…

Which got me wondering about social media identity. By that, I really mean these three things:

  • What subjects do you cover
  • What “voice” do you use
  • How does your social network perceive you

When it comes to developing professional identity in social media, a key consideration is the size of your company.

Company Size and Social Media Identities

The graph below depicts where the professional and personal identities diverge.

The idea in the above chart is that the smaller the company, the more closely your personal and professional identities are tied. As the company size increases, the more separate your identities become.

Where can these identities come into play?

  • Blogging
  • Posting on blogs
  • Twittering
  • FriendFeed
  • Etc.

Entrepreneurs and Small Companies

For entrepreneurs, your social media interactions are your marketing. How you think. What you care about. What insights you can deliver. And employees of small companies are the company. So their identities are very closely tied to the company.

Sam Lawrence, CMO of Jive Software, is a good example of someone blurring professional and personal identities. Here are his social media identities:

  • Twitter: Sam mixes a heavy dose of Jive-related tweets with interesting tweets on other subjects. He ain’t afraid to keep it real out on Twitter.
  • Go Big Always: This is his personal blog, covering the social and enterprise software market. Jive gets plenty of attention, but it’s not the focus of every post.
  • JiveTalks: The official company blog. Sam can be found here, and the posts are product-related.

Here’s what Sam said about his multiple social media identities:

Up until now, I’ve been blogging on JiveTalks. But a corporate blog is just that – a corporate blog. I wanted to have a place where I could more freely voice wider observations and thoughts beyond Social Productivity and Jive’s business.

That being said, you get Sam, you get Jive Software.

Big Corporates

Employees working for larger companies will tend to have separate professional and personal social media identities. It’s tempting to say there’s the the “authentic” you and the “corporate” you. I think that oversimplifies things. The work you do is part of your authentic identity – if it wasn’t, presumably you’d quit the job.

But there are important differences when it comes to your professional identity. Here are a few that apply when using social media on behalf of a large corporate:

  • You write about things that are part of your identity only while you work for the company
  • You have to err on the side of “corporatism”, with language consistent with that of your company
  • Your company’s stuff is great, all competition sucks (of course, this applies for entrepreneurs as well!)
  • You’re likely in “sell” mode

The separation between personal identity and professional identity is the greatest for employees of large corporates. Whereas Sam Lawrence’s social media identity is very much a personal and professional combination, I decided to create a second identity for engaging social media professionally. My handle became Hutch@[company name]. You see that, you know I’m doing things on behalf of my company.

Final Thoughts

There’s a notion that someday all of our social media identities will be blurred. “Your personal identity is your professional identity in Web 2.0.” If we’re talking “professional” in terms of your career and talents you can bring to a company, then yes, that statement is true regardless of where you work.

However, if “professional” is the identity you assume on behalf of your company, then that statement really only applies to employees of small companies. For employees of big corporates, managing your social media identities is more complex than that.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.