The first step in learning how to keep your personal and professional brands separate online is to accept that the dividing line will be blurry. In other words, you really only have one brand out there, and it is a mixture of both your “lives.” Nevertheless, there are things you can do to make them distinct from one another with a little bit of planning and understanding.
Without at least somewhat of a strategy in place, you could find yourself with several problems as the two mesh together -- your company doesn’t like those photos of you at a party, your friends don’t like hearing about your boring SEO articles on their Facebook feeds everyday, or other common pitfalls, discussed here.
The moral of the story: Because the Internet is only becoming more connected, the sooner you can learn to keep your brands separate, the better.
Here are a few tips on how to do so:
1. Know how you want to be perceived in general.
Most people immediately jump to the conclusion that separate is better, and in a lot of cases it is. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that your personal life can sometimes benefit your professional life. People are going to want to see that you’re a real human and not just words on a computer screen. Part of helping your articles pop or your social accounts thrive professionally is actually bringing in a little bit of your personality and personal life.
With this in mind, you can start to define what you want these two brands to mean to you. Where do you want them to intersect? How are you going to use one to help the other, if at all? Once you know how you want to be perceived overall, you can begin taking the steps to make it happen.
2. Know which social platform to use when posting content.
This is definitely what many people think of when they think about this topic, and rightfully so. Social media is going to be the biggest struggle when trying to keep your personal and professional brands separate. The most significant thing you can do is know which social platform to use at which time. In other words, think about the content you want to post and then which account suites it best.
Ultimately, you have to know your audience. It sounds obvious, but we have to mention it. LinkedIn is an easy one: Keep the content professional. However, the other major networks are a little bit trickier. It all comes down to how you have built your followers and friends, which brings me to my next point.
3. Decide who you should allow as "friends" on each social network.
This is arguably the most crucial point. Determine which social accounts you want to be primarily professional and which are going to be primarily personal so that you know who to connect with on each. This will help you know what content to publish where.
As discussed above, LinkedIn is an easy one. You can still connect with your friends and others in your personal life on LinkedIn because everyone know this is a professional network. There aren’t too many decisions to be made when someone asks to connect. Google+ is also pretty simple because it allows you to have different circles with different people. You can therefore tailor your content to only one certain group (personal or professional), which should you help keep things separate if you’re careful.
The other accounts, on the other hand, are completely up to you. Many people choose to keep Facebook personal and not accept friend requests from anyone at work or in the industry, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Some people set up two separate Facebook accounts altogether. You get to choose, so choose wisely.
Related: The Pitfalls of Personal Branding
4. Focus on privacy.
Of course, you can’t forget about privacy. If you decided you want your Facebook account to be strictly personal, make sure that it is set to private so only friends can see the content. After all, who you connect with won’t matter if everyone can see what you say! The same goes for blogs, website profiles, and other social networks.
5. Google yourself every once in a while.
How are you going to keep your brands separate if you don’t know what’s out there? This is probably the biggest mistake that people will make. You could be very diligent with your social accounts and focusing on all of the things listed above, but that won’t necessarily stop someone from writing something about you online and then publishing it. The only way for you to really know what’s out there is to do a quick Google search. I also recommend setting up Google Alerts.
Professionally, what you’re going to need to worry about here is responding to any comments or backlash from an article that may have mentioned something you’ve published in the past, something you did in the field, etc. Whether this publicity is good or bad, you want to make sure you know it’s happening so that you can respond. Personally, the biggest problem you’ll likely find is a friend or someone you know posting something about you on his/her blog. If you’re managing your social accounts you can be sure to be in control, but if you aren’t searching yourself online every so often this is something you could miss.
Again, the name of the game here is keeping the brands separate, not blending them together. If someone posted something personal about you on his/her blog that you don’t like, it’s simply your job to know about it, and then ask that person to make it private or use your nickname instead of your real name.
As you can see, social media is the stem of the majority of problems people have when working with personal and professional brands. Although there are of course other factors, if you can master social media separation you’ve likely knocked out most of your very significant problems.
In the end, regardless of where the blurred lines between professional and personal brands might occur, you always have to assume that one might get back to the other. Do your best to manage both of your brands and create spaces where they won’t overlap, but be prepared if they do! Read more about what it means to really have a defined brand online here.