Personal Professional Social MediaA few weeks ago, I got a friend request on Facebook.

I recognized the name and clicked on the person’s profile to check out his information. He was pretty well-connected in his career and we had a few friends in common. I had a problem though: I had spoken with him only once on the phone — for a project I was putting together at a place I haven’t worked at for three years. I’ve never met him in real life and really know nothing about him.

I declined the request. But that’s just me. Someone else might have accepted it. Our interpretations of what’s personal, what’s professional, what we share, and who we let into our worlds have gotten fuzzy because of social media. Millennial Branding found that Generation Y is happy to blur those lines — they use Facebook as an extension of their professional life. For some people, that can cause problems when you’re sharing information about your personal life and forget that the colleague in the next cubicle is watching every social move you make.

I present Constant Contact’s social media webinars and frequently get questions from attendees on how to separate the personal from the professional in this public space. One solution is to create a personal social media policy for each of your profiles. Look at your social networks and decide: What do you use this space for? Who do you want to let in? Think about the things you talk about on each social network — do you really want your potential new friends or followers to know those details? Do you want to know theirs? Here’s my personal social media policy:

  • Facebook is for people I’ve met and have some sort of relationship with in real life. I share what’s going on in my life, and I’m interested in what’s going on in theirs. My Facebook policy isn’t much different from most people, according to a recent Nielsen study. They found that 82% of Facebook users add friends because they’re people they know in real life, and 41% of people unfriend people because they don’t know them very well.
  • LinkedIn is for people I’ve worked with and personal friends who I haven’t worked with. I admire their skills and accomplishments, and I can go to them to brainstorm or discover new marketing tools and tips.
  • Twitter is for anyone; my Twitter door is open to all who follow me. I use Twitter to discover what’s going on in social media marketing and I like to share the interesting things I find.

Another option is to clean up your social networks. It’s OK to create a Facebook Page or a LinkedIn group and send a message to your clients on your personal page: Ask them to join you there. Take advantage of the tools available on Facebook — change your privacy settings to reflect how public or private you want to be. Create friend lists and choose which lists can see which posts. Look at your LinkedIn settings and choose who has access to your activity feed, who can send you messages, and who can send you invitations. Do you want a public or private Twitter account? You can change your settings to make your tweets private; Twitter calls these protected tweets.

Social media is as public or as private as you want it to be. You have control; find the privacy settings you’re comfortable with and surround yourself with friends and followers that you trust.

What’s your private/public social media policy? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.