We’re Not Really Friends: Six Ways to Balance the Personal and Professional on the Social Web

By June 4, 2010June 7th, 2010Social Media, Uncategorized

I hate to tell you this, but we’re not really friends.

OK, we might be friends, some of us. And I would hope that those of you who are actual friends know who you are.  But simply because we’re connected on a social network, or because you follow me on Twitter does not mean that you are allowed into all that I consider private in my life.

This has been a challenge for bloggers from day one, and while there’s a lot of content that I share as a person with a big online footprint, there’s a lot of stuff you don’t get to know. For everyone, there must be some content considered personal and therefore private. Define for yourself where that line is and draw it in permanent Sharpie.

My friend Waldo (and yes, we’re actual real life friends) manages his network like this: his Twitter feed is protected and plays host to a conversation he has with a select group of people (mostly programmers); his Facebook friends are actual friends — don’t try to friend him if you aren’t actually friends — you will be disappointed. As Waldo said recently, “I’m not a collectible.” (Although personally I think I’d like to have a Waldo bobblehead in my collection, but that’s a different matter altogether.)

The point is this: the decision to separate your personal and professional lives is a PERSONAL one but you must make it.

Here’s how I manage the professional vs. the private in my online profile:

  1. I don’t accept LinkedIn connections to people I have not met and have no reference or context to place them in my social network.
  2. I only follow people who have interesting content to share on Twitter. I unfollow if your content bothers me in some way, or if you have too little to say. I use a tool called UnTweeps to efficiently cull through the dead weight in my Twitter account from time to time.
  3. I don’t post anything I don’t want you to know. That seems simple enough, but if it’s none of your business, I have no business posting it online.
  4. I do post personal content in my professional space occasionally. I am me, across all platforms, so the people with whom I do business know that I like to bake pie; likewise my friends know what it is I do for a living.
  5. In Facebook, I am a creator and user of lists — if we don’t really know one another well, if we’re acquaintances or we used to know one another long ago, you’re in a list that has limited access to my content. I have a very short list of people (I’ve named it “homies” for the way that sounds when I am speaking to a crowd on this topic) of super close friends and family. I will use this list to communicate the insider information about our family and life. Generally though, that information will be delivered in person or on the phone.
  6. If you get stalker-ish and take advantage of an assumed relationship, if you make demands or get snarky and we’ve never even met or had a live conversation, you may be blocked from my content. Life is too short and bullies were cut out of my life as long ago as third grade. Move along and find someone to connect to that is interested in maintaining a relationship with you.

What about you? Are there unique ways you have found to keep the two halves of your life separate?


  • I’m trying to find a way to keep things separated, but haven’t found the right balance yet.

  • Cville Kim says:

    Thank you Marijean. I struggle with the same balance, plus posting what is mostly local content on FB that my distant friends won’t “get”. My theory is that newbies, especially on FB, try to friend everyone and anyone.

  • Terek55 says:

    I really like this post. It’s a really tough call to make…guess you need to forgive yourself if you mess up too! On F/B especially I’m friends with people I actually know (oh and my daughter’s friends whether I know them or not)…on LinkedIn I have to have worked with them in some way because that seems more business oriented than maybe it should be. On Twitter I have been known to block if necessary.

  • Marijean says:

    Thanks Terry (I mean, Terek55). Yes, Twitter seems like the free range follow platform so yes, I think feeling free to block at will is the way to go. It’s not easy, and yes, we all end up posting something too personal on the professional side and vice versa, but generally keeping common sense in mind will keep most people out of trouble or at a minimum, an uncomfortable situation.

  • I try to make separate accounts for my business and personal networking. For example, my book has its own Twitter account and facebook page – naturally I try to encourage the entire world to follow me there, and I try to keep the content I post there strictly about my book, healthcare issues (the book’s subject) and professional ventures. My personal Twitter account is pretty much “anything goes”, but my personal facebook account and LinkedIn profile are for people I really know, or who have been introduced to me by people I know as people I should get to know.

    It IS a hard balance, as you said and judgement calls are just a part of everyday online networking – I’m with you, though, life’s too short – cut the losers!

  • PS – I was looking for a way to contact you more privately, but didn’t see a “contact me” tab. I’m writing an etiquette article for Charlottesville Woman (for Terek55) on Internet Networking and was hoping to schedule an interview with you. Can you email me sometime this week or next, please? Thanks – I look forward to speaking with you soon!

  • Sarah says:

    Just now found this blog… I read everything in my reader so I rarely click around the internets to see what’s new. I struggle with this all the time because I tend to be the girl that tells everyone everything anyway, so why not put my entire life online? I’ve had to set some rules as well.

    So, can I call you MJ since we’ve met in person?

    Here’s how I roll:
    FB – for real friends with work peeps mixed in who I consider “work friends”
    Twitter – not really into it, but mostly use it for work stuff
    blog – personal. So you can’t find it with my ‘real name’ or where I work or any of that jazz unless you REALLY know me, or you are a complete stranger and stumble upon it, which is cool too. I don’t link it to the other social media though because too many work people look at those.
    LinkedIn – work.

    I have even have a “friend” email account – which all my friends use, and a “professional” email account which I use on my resume and for other, more serious matters.

  • Marijean says:

    Sarah – yes you can! 🙂 I think the way you have it set up works — especially since you have given it thought and created those spaces the way you want them. Go you!