Personal vs. Professional Social Media Sharing: Where Should We Draw the Line?

By Devin Morrissey

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Audiences like to see human faces behind marketing. Social media provides a unique opportunity to connect with people on a personal level, taking your message directly to them and interacting with them about their desires and needs.

How much is too much, when it comes to using social media professionally? How much of your personality should you put into business-related posts, and how much should you talk about your job on your personal accounts? If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, the lines can get even more blurred, and you have to make choices about how much of your personal life goes into your business presence.

How Social Media Mixes Professional and Private Lives

Social media presents professionals with a number of unique challenges. The lines between your professional life and personal life become blurred, as your opinions, interests, and comments exist in a much wider public sphere.  If like many people, you have your name associated with your job on one social media platform or other, it’s easy for people to make the connection.

Despite the fact that it’s generally assumed the opinions of employees don’t reflect the company, we’ve seen a number of occasions where an ill-advised personal social media post has resulted in serious consequences for the company, and sometimes, the individual’s career.

In fact, employers have started taking personal social media accounts into consideration when making hiring decisions (even internal ones!). Your habits on social media may be scrutinized beyond a cursory check for violent, racist, or sexual posts. Companies may consider prolific posting, the divulgence of too many private details, and your responses to posts and memes that might be social engineering, to be risks. Organizations suffer relatively high risks from social media use that could result, if things go wrong, in the loss of sensitive information, public relations crises, or lawsuits.

Risks of Personal and Business Accounts

Personal and business social media accounts have many of the same risks; however, there is a difference in scale. If your personal social media is connected with your career, there are much less obvious dangers lurking on the wide open internet. One need only look to Roseanne and James Gunn to get a sense of these perils.

Innocuous memes, quizzes, and discussions on social media can have serious ramifications. A meme where you “create your ___ name” from such things as your birthday, the state or city of your birth. “How old were you when ___ happened?” Maybe you’re asked to choose something based on your favorite color, or the first letter or your middle name. There are memes that are based on your mother’s maiden name, the name of your first pet, your blood type, and favourite animals.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

It should because they’re all common challenge questions of account recovery features. All someone needs is a meme and a bot, and they can scrape all sorts of personal information from your social media profile, then use it to “recover” your accounts and gain access to them. If your personal social media is associated with your career, or worse yet you respond to one of these on a professional account, you may have compromised the security of your work accounts. Companies, especially if they have robust marketing departments, often generate and store a large amount of personal information about their clients and audience. One breach of an employee’s accounts using social engineering, and hackers have access to information about many more people, potentially including more secure information like account numbers, credit card numbers, and Social Security numbers.

Professional social media accounts also require a great deal of click discipline. What you click on matters, as malware can be automatically downloaded onto machines when you access certain sites, and the developers of malware are constantly innovating to defeat current security measures. The first and best line of protection is discretion. Accessing the wrong link on a company-owned device, or a work-specific device if you’re a business owner or freelancer, can have disastrous consequences.

Preventing Misuse

If you manage a marketing account for a company or post your intellectual property on social media as a freelancer, there are additional concerns. For the most part, when we post photos on social media we aren’t particularly concerned about what happens to their ownership. Personally, we should be concerned about what happens with images depicting us. For businesses, there might be financial considerations as well.

No one has yet successfully sued Facebook for selling the photos they upload to their personal accounts to advertisers. Losing the rights to your own images is personally concerning, and posting the wrong image to a business page can have unforeseen, unfortunate ramifications. Protecting data, images, and intellectual property is extremely difficult on social media.

Again, discretion is the key here. Adding watermarks to images, producing slightly different versions for social media, and other tactics can protect your own content and company marketing material from misuse. Remember, too, that anyone can screenshot anything you say or might have said in the past on social media, then repost it. If you are taking on a professional role that requires a heavy social media presence, it might be a good idea to create new accounts just as a precaution. None of us remembers unprofessional comments we might have made four years ago, but a determined searcher might dig them up and put you or your company on blast for them.

In the end, whether social media has a positive or negative impact is all down to how you use it, the discretion you employ and the professionalism of all your communication. Using social media accounts to your advantage, and the advantage of your business, rely on you becoming savvy to modern social engineering dangers, copyright concerns, and staying self-aware about your personal posting.

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