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How to Balance Between Personal and Professional Social Media Basic yet helpful reminders about the benefits and risks associated with posting to social media.

By FlexTal Edited by Jason Fell

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Kittichai Boonpong/EyeEm | Getty Images

This article was written by Kay VanAntwerpen, an Entrepreneur NEXT powered by Assemble expert. Do you want to future-proof your business with on-demand expertise? Entrepreneur NEXT has the expert solutions your business needs to succeed in an evolving market.

For brands, social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, when creatively employed, it can reach your consumer base in exciting and engaging ways (for example, DiGiorno's bizarre and hilarious Twitter account). On the other hand, when used recklessly or inappropriately, it can damage brand integrity and reputation in ways that are difficult if not impossible to mend—for instance, when TV star Roseanne Barr ended her comeback and erased herself from the pop-culture landscape with a couple of offensive tweets.

Regardless of risk, social media is here to stay. The audience is too large to leave untapped—3.5 billion people use social media worldwide, and the average person spends three hours a day using at least one social media platform.

If you use social media in your career, it can be difficult to navigate the tenuous balance between professional and personal social media use. And, yes, the categories often overlap. You don't need to feel ashamed if you're unsure where the boundaries lie. Below, we'll discuss the balancing act that is the dichotomy between personal and professional social media.

Advantages and disadvantages of personal and professional social media.

With all of the risk, you may be asking yourself "Why bother? Businesses got by just fine without it in the past." Except that's not an option in 2020. At this point, your customers expect to reach you via the web. Fifty-four percent of social media users use it to research products they are considering purchasing. If you're not on social media, your brand still has a social presence (such as users who post about you), you just have less control.

However, some of the invaluable advantages of social platforms include:

  • The ability to quickly inform your audience of new information, daily deals, changes in policy, and more.

  • It's a visible demonstration that your company is on the forefront of technology and trends alike.

  • It provides a venue for online chats with your clients about business-related topics.

  • It can serve as a bulletin or news report for company information.

While there are people who abstain from personal social media, there are also many wonderful tools to be found with personal Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. You shouldn't have to sacrifice a personal digital presence for the sake of your career. Personal social media accounts are full of benefits that include:

  • Development and maintenance of personal relationships, especially in the time of Coronavirus when in-person socializing is limited.

  • Easy access to communication with anyone in your social network.

  • The ability to build new connections within your existing social circles.

  • Keeping up with news, releases, and special offers from your favorite brands and artists.

  • Connecting with your favorite authors, musicians, and others on a personal level.

The disadvantages of social media most often come into play when the barriers between professional and personal use are blurred. It should be abundantly clear that your personal social media use can and will impact your professional reputation.

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How connecting with clients on social media can go wrong.

Two million friendships are requested on Facebook every 20 minutes. So what happens if one of your customers, clients, or another individual you have a professional relationship with decides to reach out to you on your personal social media? This becomes a situation where personal and professional are heavily blurred. So, how do you manage it? The simple answer is: you don't.

Almost all professional guidelines suggest avoiding personal social media connections with clients, and it should go without saying that you should never use your business social media to instigate a personal relationship.

In an interview with NCBI, nurse practitioner Patricia Sullivan said: "I believe that if you accept a "friend' request, it crosses the boundaries and can be damaging to the therapeutic relationship."

She clarified that it's only acceptable to "friend" a client if there's a 100 percent guarantee that they would not be in a working relationship again. Absent that guarantee, the conduct is considered unprofessional.

The ever-widening number of problems from blurred social media boundaries include:

  • Damage to your professional relationships: Making a personal connection on social media can cause your clients to begin to see you as a friend and personal connection rather than a business connection. As we'll touch on further down the list, this simple change in viewpoint can damage your credibility, cause conflict, or lead to inappropriate relationships.

  • Your customers can decide they don't like you: Not everyone has the personality or demeanor for public-facing positions. You may make serious posts about politics or current events that would be inappropriate or divisive in the workplace. To the customer who just friended you on Facebook, though—you're still on the clock and they're judging every personal choice as if it represents your business.

  • Sexual harassment isn't uncommon: In 2015, Cosmopolitan asked women to identify those responsible for sexually harassing them on the job. While 75 percent said they were harassed by male colleagues, a whopping 49 percent of women were harassed by male customers. Opening your personal social media to a customer allows them access to personal data (such as where you live, work, etc). This is all information no customer needs to know, and all the more reason to draw a firm barrier between work and personal social media.

  • Damage to your credibility: People share things on personal social media much more casually than they would on professional social media. Not everyone fact-checks the stories they post, or the memes they share. Posting incorrect or damaging information on your personal page can damage your credibility.

Beware of these mistakes.

Below are some tips (some more common sense than others) to avoid social media scratches and dents to your professional reputation. If you don't think actively about the way you post on social media, it may be easy to accidentally cross some of these lines. Take a look at this long list of people who were fired for inappropriate behavior on social media. A shocking 93 percent of employers look at their potential hire's social media before making the decision—and you can certain your colleagues and clients will nose around a little, too.

Be careful when posting about work: Posting business-related content such as news about new clients or projects can be considered discourteous, even if the material isn't directly labeled "burn after reading." It's especially important to stay away from information learned in private meetings with managers, colleagues, and clients—closed doors mean there's an assumed amount of privacy. This goes double for clients or colleagues you have negative feelings about—it can be tempting and gratifying to vent on social media, but you should always operate under the assumption your colleagues and clients will see your posts.

If your posts are public, it's not a good idea to post during work hours even if you're a manager and not an underling. Clients and colleagues are still able to see your posts and will recognize that the timestamps show you posted during work hours.

Remember to ask yourself if anything you're posting could harm your professional career. Don't post racist, sexist, or LGBTQ+ phobic content even if it's a meme or a joke. And especially don't pretend to be a domestic terrorist group—it'll unsurprisingly end your career in a flash.

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