Separating the Personal and Professional Self on the Social Web

As a government communicator, I am always very aware of how I represent my organization when speaking (or blogging) in a professional capacity.

As a self-proclaimed early adopter and all-around geek girl, I consider myself a consumer of media and a social experimenter.

As a web strategist, I spend much of my personal time experimenting with tools, sites, etc. looking for ways to incorporate these methods into my professional work.

So what happens when these worlds collide? I pose these questions to the community:

Is it necessary to maintain separate personal/professional profiles?
If you maintain a personal blog, do you include your professional affiliations (i.e. GovLoop, LinkedIn, etc.)?
Is the content of your lifestream (Twitter pals, friends of friends, shared feeds, social bookmarks) a reflection of your personal, professional, or whole self?

I’m leaning towards complete integration, but without policies in place to define the “rules of engagement”, I tend to be more conservative when communicating in a professional forum such as this.

Anyone else wrestling with these questions or have some thoughts to share?

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Mark Danielson

I don’t know how to separate the personal and professional while social networking. So I go for the integrity meld. Making me whole and one with myself. In other words, I ignore the dichotomy of paid work and what makes my mind sing. I try to have them both. That’s why occasionally I worry about getting fired. But still the truth must out. Diplomatically, if possible. Good post. Good question. Thank you.

John Miller

I hinted about this in the aggregation discussion. I present different levels of aggregation in different arenas. On my personal blog I have blog posts and twitter. On my LinkedIn page I have my professional website. Company internal blogs have different links altogether. Could someone go through all of these and generate a complete picture? probably. I try to create the most meaningful aggregate for any particular community.

Robert Smudde

The combining of personal and professional communications in the same social networking space (Facebook for me) results in unnecessary anxiety. I haven’t worked this out yet, but I’m leaning towards ‘specializing’ my purpose in each. That is, I will use each social network for one major purpose. Facebook will be focused on my personal relationships since the great majority of my interactions on it are personal… even with some professional colleagues. I plan to de-friend those in my Facebook network who are determined to use it mainly for business communications. I have LinkedIn and GovLoop for my professional interactions… not that they can’t be friendly and fun, but my face to them is mainly my professional face. I’m just not one who can mix the professional and personal without dumbing down all of my interactions to vague and simple messages that relate to both my colleagues and my friends and family. I’d love a better solution…. anyone?

Andrew Krzmarzick

Politics aside, ten years ago the Clinton scandal caused me to reflect quite a bit on “the separation of personal and professional.” It made me realize that I want to be the same person in “private” as I am in “public.” Integrity is a very high value for me and so I strive for consistency in who I am…always. And so the same is true for my web presence – the same person on Facebook (my Web “home”), LinkedIn (work), my blog (blend), Twitter (blend), Pandora, etc. In some ways, I have an issue with “image branding” if it flies in the face of integrity and authenticity.

At the same time, I admit to making distinctions in the level of information that I wish to share with people at varying levels of trust and confidence. Like Robert, I use Facebook more for communication with friends and family, but know that people from work and other affiliations may seek to become part of my network. Another example is Flickr – I may not share the same pictures publicly that I would share with my family or friends…partly because others may not appreciate them, but also because it’s something I wish to enjoy with a smaller group of people. At the same time, I recognize that the minute I post anything on the Web, it is essentially public…because the folks at Flickr could at any time, if they wanted, seize that information. And I ask: would I want anyone (and I mean anyone and possibly everyone) to see this image? Of course, I probably should have asked some more difficult questions sooner before a questionable picture was even taken! Nothing on the Web is ever really private.

Bottom line: Integrity – always. Information sharing – varies.


David Tallan

Generally, I integrate the two. However, if I were to be posting on a social network “on behalf of the government” (for example, if we were using Twitter or Facebook as a communications tool– which parts of our government do) and I was posting to Twitter or Facebook in that context, I wouldn’t use my personal profile but would create a separate one for work purposes and use that.


I’m an integrator but I try not to talk too much about work. To me it’s like a cocktail party – you meet someone who is a PR person you don’t talk a ton about your job. You meet someone who randomly works in a similar agency you talk shop. You talk to the lady/dude in your life. Friends – sometimes talk shop other times not. I just try to be me.

Adriel Hampton

I’m basically in the Andrew user mode. If you want to follow my Private Investigator tweets, it’s #pilife – pretty boring though, because I can’t talk about the good stuff 🙂

Alice M. Fisher

You know sometimes we have to look backwards to look forwards. I posted at length about the very beginning of the Internet. And, the same challenges then exsisted about the demarcation/blurring of lines was in as it is today. What has history taught us?
Are we not all public figures when we are “on”

on the Phone,
on the Job,
on the Internet,
on email,
on at meetings,
on social networks,
on blogs,
on call to help serve
in the Military
on as a mom, a wife, a daughter, a grandmother
Blurring the lines? Is it a privacy issue, a demarcation of lines, or personal ethics?

Or all the above?
I say, yes, to all the above.

Know the core of who you are, and stick to your core values.
This has always been my guide
online or off line,
day in and day out.

Alice M. Fisher
Je Suis Moi Meme

Marilyn Clark

Thanks everyone for your input. I think that I am who I am…so the blended identity is going to be the most logical approach for me. Integrity is key, whether I am on or off. Alice, your post nailed it for me.

Lisa Nelson

I think that there is a huge learning curve with this in government. On the one hand many young people who come to government are used to using the media socially and don’t draw any distinction between their personal and professional. From topics to inappropriate pictures. On the other hand, some of the older employees trying to get into using the media aren’t able to figure out how to use it professionally either.

We have had some wonderful moments in reporting important happenings to citizens. For example, during the inauguration kept their constituents in touch with everything going on that day with pictures and posts. They were professional, provided information and were personal in their communication. But from my perspective this has not been the rule. There is going to be a big learning curve with all new media . It is still new territory.

Marilyn Clark

Lisa, the more I explore this territory, the more I realize that the personal/professional line is blurred. For me, this comes down to how I want to control my personal brand. Yes, I am a government employee, interested in social media, working on the social media subcouncil. But I also like dogs and 24 and chocolate. Sharing that information can make the personal relationships with the professional contacts that much deeper, and open the doors for even greater engagement. The more I think about this, the more focused I find my blog posts, my tweets, and even my Facebook activity. Thanks for your comment!