Dear Lifehacker, I’m a pretty savvy person when it comes to getting my work on the web where people can see, but all this talk about Facebook passwords and things has me re-thinking my personal/professional boundaries. Should I set up completely separate accounts for my personal life and my professional life, or is that kind of misleading?
How can I juggle privacy and openness, especially if I want to make a name for myself and get hired? Sincerely, Camera Shy
Dear Camera Shy,
Well, there’s no clear yes or no answer here, and what’s best for you will really come down to how much you want a potential employer to be able to find out about you. Balance that with exactly how strong your desire for privacy is, and you’ll know where you come down on this issue. There are some ramifications to going either way though, and a comfortable compromise in the middle may work best for you — let’s dig into that a bit.
How Comfortable Are You With Your Name in Public?
This is the ultimate question you’re going to have to answer. Some of us live with our identities in public because we have to, either because we work in public under our own names or assumed identities, or because we prefer to be above board with our comments, criticisms and public interactions on the web. Many other people prefer the cloak of anonymity so they can speak their mind, comment and write what they really feel, and join the communities they prefer without worrying about who might find them there later.
We touched on this topic a bit when it came to Facebook passwords and even with companies tracking your activities on the web. If you prefer anonymity because you don’t want it to come around to your staunchly conservative boss that you’re a guest writer at a leading progressive blog, then there’s a reason you’d want to keep some elements of your personal identity separate from your professional one. At the same time, if you’re a writer and you’d like to apply for more opportunities, you may do yourself a disservice by keeping some of your best work out of your portfolio. Ultimately, you have to balance how comfortable you are having your name attached to all of your work, and whether or not the things that you attach your name are relevant to your field, or help complete a potential employer’s picture of you as a whole individual.
Pros to Keeping Your Identities Separate
- It provides a layer of privacy (through obscurity). Your anonymous or personal persona is free to comment where you choose, say what you like and be an active participant in any community you wish, without fear that your professional portfolio or career will be impacted by it. Photo by Tom Mc Nemar.
- You have control over your professional appearance. By keeping semi-separate identities, you can carefully curate who sees what, and what information is available to a potential employer, business partner, family member, or anyone else looking for information on you and what you’ve been up to. By minimising the intersection between personal and professional, you have the option to let some people into both worlds while keeping most people in the ones you prefer.
- Avoids information overload, for you and your audience. Keeping your identities separate allows you to control and refine what you see and when. It allows you to keep different networks for different purposes, and limit your own access to some networks when you’re off the clock, and then stay up to date on everything when it’s business time. This method also allows you to keep your professional updates — like new photos in your gallery, or new articles you’ve written and projects you’ve completed — from boring your personal friends, and keeps your professional contacts from seeing irrelevant details of your personal life.
Cons to Keeping Your Identities Separate
- Requires you to maintain separate accounts/personae in different places. On some networks, you may want to go as far as to create a completely separate identity for yourself, and depending on the network in question, that may be a violation of the terms of service. Some companies don’t take lightly to the same person having multiple accounts, with one under a false name. More importantly though, it doubles the amount of work you have to physically put into maintaining your presence online. You’ll have personal networks you use to stay in touch with friends, and professional pages and portfolios to help you get jobs and market yourself. Photo by Sybil Liberty.
- Splits your audience. For many people, your biggest fans, and the people who are perhaps the most likely to help you find new jobs, connect with people who can help you find your dream gig, or support your vision are the people closest to you — or the people you would connect with on your personal networks, but keep at arms length elsewhere. If you opt to keep your personal and professional lives separate, you may find yourself excluding valuable people who can help you because they’re friends or family. If you let them in to both, however, it may defeat the whole point. Alternatively, if what you do is what you love, this definitely defeats the point.
Use Different Networks for Different Purposes
Some of this is obvious — you’d naturally use your LinkedIn profile for business contacts, right? But would you think about creating a Facebook page for your personal “brand” or the professional side of your life? Everyone has a personal Facebook account, and we would strongly suggest you keep it locked down, but if you want to use Facebook as a professional networking tool — and it’s great for that, make no mistake — then a Facebook Page, not a second profile, may be what you’re looking for. Then you have the separation you need between the personal and the professional. Photo by Sheila Scarborough.
The same applies to Twitter, or your personal website. It’s one thing to have a personal blog, full of your own thoughts and opinions, but it’s another to have a professional blog where you write about your goals, your projects, and post samples of your work. Flickr, Smugmug and networks like 500px are great tools for photographers, but not many photographers who are serious about their work would suggest using Flickr in lieu of a personal gallery hosted on your own site (where potential clients can reach you about your work.)
It’s more important that you find the sweet spot of personal and professional distance between your social circles that’s right for you than you specifically create two accounts with the same name, or one with a fake name and the other with your real name. You can have it all, just be aware of the privacy policies and terms of service you’re signing to, and make sure you’re using each network for its best intended purpose.
Make the Call That Suits You Best
The key is to use the networks that you sign up for in the best way possible that retains your personal privacy, but also helps you professionally. In most cases, that means getting up to speed with their privacy settings, considering second accounts or secondary profiles (that are or are not linked to your personal one, depending on how comfortable you are doing so) for different purposes, and only cross pollinating when absolutely necessary. Plus, doing this gives you control over what you publish and to whom, and even gives you the option to let professional friends into your personal cabal if you see fit.
We know we didn’t say “yes, you should keep them separate” as much as we said “no, you shouldn’t use one identity for everything”, but that’s because it’s more important for your sanity and for your work-life boundaries for you to keep some distance between your professional portfolios and your personal activities on the web. Whether you choose to use the same name is up to you, you’ll just have to be on your best behaviour when you do. If using your real name forces you to not be a jerk, then we can’t complain, but if it forces you to stop short of brilliance because you don’t know how a future employer would feel, well then, we agree with XKCD on that one.
PS Do you keep your personal and professional profiles completely separate? Do you mix audiences, or just use one name and one set of profiles and call it a day? Share your privacy — and professional networking tips — in the comments below.
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