RAQ: Personal and Professional Identities – SMUG

Jackie Fox (@jfoxhdr), who blogs at Dispatch from Second Base, writes to ask:

I haven’t noticed this in SMUG and was hoping you might have some advice on how to mesh our professional and personal activities online. I’m beginning to suffer from a bit of an identity crisis. My professional profile is on LinkedIn and my personal profile is on Facebook (and professional on Twitter but only for monitoring purposes). That seems fairly clear-cut but what if I would like to join LinkedIn groups as a “civilian?” I don’t think the engineering company I work for is well served by seeing women’s healthcare issues on my LinkedIn profile. I guess I could list breast cancer affiliations including my blog as personal interests on my work profile but that seems just a tad weird. Or is it? Any advice from you or how others handle it would be more than welcome. Even sending you this message I had to stop and think for a second about which way to identify myself. I chose personal and I think that made sense. But yikes! If I were writing to Ann Landers I would sign this “Confused.” Thanks.

Jackie was quick to add “jfoxhdr is my Twitter name but just a reminder I have never tweeted. I’m on there primarily to monitor certain news items and follow people for work (ENR and a couple of environmental reporters) and for fun (you and Stephen Colbert.)”


Dear “Confused”…er, I mean Jackie. First, I’m honored to be in your “for fun” group in Twitter, along with Stephen Colbert. How cool is that?

Second, don’t apologize for the way you use Twitter. It’s perfectly fine to be in “Listen Only” mode if that works for you. Much better than being a spam machine.

Now to your main question:

I really think it comes down to Integrity, which my handy Mac Dictionary app defines as:

1 the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness : he is known to be a man of integrity.
2 the state of being whole and undivided : upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

I personally don’t think it’s a problem for your business and professional colleagues to know that you’re concerned about breast cancer and active in advocacy related to it.

Doing this advocacy on work time wouldn’t be good. But knowing that you have this interest helps your clients, customers and colleagues know you better. And if all your LinkedIn posts were about non-work passions, that probably would indicate that you’re really not that interested in your engineering work.

If you have clients to whom you are “selling” it’s better for them to get to know you as a person, not just as a disembodied voice at the end of the phone line. That makes it less likely they would drop your company for a $5 an hour discount they might get from a competitor.

If you’re involved in a jihadist group, that would be a different story. Probably best to keep that off your LinkedIn profile, because while it might not bar you from boarding a U.S.-bound plane from Amsterdam, it likely would turn off potential business associates.

But for almost any other kind of personal interest, it just comes down to proportion. Don’t go overboard in advocating for a cause so that’s all your professional colleagues and customers see.

In summary, I would just say: “Don’t be a Sybil.” Be one integrated personality (and online persona).

Be yourself.

How about the rest of you? How would you advise Jackie?

8 thoughts on “RAQ: Personal and Professional Identities – SMUG”

  1. This is something we all grapple with, so it’s a great topic. I agree with you, Lee. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is some folks may not lack integrity but they do seem to lack common sense. And these are smart, good folks. Sometimes they have the insight to realize that they don’t have the skills necessary to appropriately define boundaries, but most of the time they do not. Sadly, I have seen folks in other companies be disciplined and even canned for not understanding how to balance the “integration” of personal/professional integrity as Lee describes. I wonder if it’s OK to help those lacking the instincts necessary successfully navigate the awkward transition in some way-feedback, etc? It’s a great question, Jackie, and I’m looking forward to the discussion it will generate. The fact that you asked it means you are already handling the issue well!

  2. Actually, I think I would advise Jackie to have *two* integrated personalities — one public (i.e., professional), and one private. In the former, I post on behalf of my employer (or am presenting myself to potential employers), and in the latter I’m, well, just me. It’s relatively easy to control access to the latter as long as you really examine all your privacy settings on a regular basis, to ensure that only those whom you want to see your posts see them.

    Even with that precaution, though, I try to make sure I never post anything online that I wouldn’t want anyone to see or know about. There are better ways of sharing private information than the World Wide Web, after all.

  3. I completely agree with you and Rebecca. Integrity and common sense should rule. Add in a dash of maturity and professionalism. When joining groups I always have to consider if I am ok with those in my “work life” knowing I am a part of that group. Because I have chosen to mix my work life and personal life on Facebook and Twitter, joining the Beer Chugging facebook group might not be the best choice for me. I know people who keep separate Facebook accounts for their professional and personal lives. I just think that’s way too much work and results in them being like “Sybil”.

  4. I’ve been pretty Sybilish, similar to Jackie, but in late December took the step of sharing on twitter, linkedin and facebook a column I wrote on a personal interest (historic preservation). So thanks Lee — your good reasoning makes me confident in continuing some more persona-merging.

  5. I just wanted to stay thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments. I did add my blog link to my LinkedIn profile, but I backed away from sharing the actual blog posts via WordPress there. That seemed a bit blatant. The wonderful thing about this is you can keep changing as you go.

  6. Thanks for posting this Lee! @Todd, I’m with you on the “if you wouldn’t want it read in the paper, don’t post it” mentality. And @John, I’m currently in the process of becoming non-Sybilish myself… I’ve found that, done correctly, it builds my sense of integrity and self-confidence.

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