Social Media: Personal? Professional? Both? (with examples)

Should I have two Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts – one for personal and one for professional?

My quick answer? Both-ish. Let me explain…

I get this question from students and alumni often. There are some articles about it but few were written in the past two years (in my opinion, anything published before 2018 is obsolete). On a quick Google Scholar search, I found two relevant studies – one from 2017 about how journalists manage personal and professional identities on social media (Bossio and Sacco) and the other from 2011 about how higher education faculty are using social media (Moran, Seaman, et al). Check them out if you are curious. (hint, hint to the communication scholars out there – this is a topic that may be worth investigating)

In the absence of abundant research, statistics, or a fancy white paper on this specific topic – I will proceed with a combination of my opinion, thoughts from some contributors in industry publications, and personal experience.

Here is what I suggest…

Important note! According to CareerBuilder (2018) – 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process. 43% use social media to check on current employees.

Facebook icon round

“Your reputation forms on Facebook in ways similar to how it forms in any community, online or otherwise. It’s based on what others know about you — firsthand and inferred.”

Sarah Chritton from Personal Branding for Dummies

Create a professional page off of your personal Facebook account.

Personal account: Reserve this account for friends, family, neighbors, select colleagues and anyone else who may be interested in photos, videos, and stories about the milestones of your children, the gallery of your latest vacation, your fanboy posts, silly jokes and memes, and pictures of that beautifully-plated dinner.

Tips to Create a Strong Personal Brand on Facebook (Pinnacle, 2018)

  1. Delete party photos
  2. Delete inappropriate cover photos
  3. Include professional details – where you work, your title, degrees, etc.
  4. Update friends list to remove those you don’t (or shouldn’t) associate with anymore or who tag you in unprofessional photos or posts
  5. Update your profile info –photo, about, quotes and likes – to represent your personal brand

The “professional” page: When you are logged into your personal Facebook account, you have the ability to create a Page. This channel should be reserved for sharing blog posts (original or curated), professional articles, videos or other digital assets you create, project work. Here you can invite and follow friends and family who are supporting your journey along with colleagues, industry leaders, corporations, and groups. Bonus: You can track user engagement and metrics in Facebook Insights.

Setting up your Facebook page (Chritton, n.d.)

  1. Consider your reputation: ways you behave, people, you associate with, information you share, information others share
  2. Consider your big-picture strategy: what do you need to share to showcase your brand, what other information are you willing to share, what should you keep private
  3. Know what is seen by everyone: the name at the top of your Facebook profile, your Facebook custom username/url, your current profile photo, your cover photo
  4. Decide on privacy settings – how much do you want to be visible

Twitter logo

“In today’s very digital world, giving out your card during networking events isn’t enough. But creating a social media following is the ultimate branding tool.”

Sara Wolkiewicz at Mention.com

Create one Twitter account and use it wisely.

Your Twitter account can be used for personal and professional purposes but tread carefully. Know that regardless of your @handle – if you sign up using your real name, people can find you. But if you are willing to avoid profanities, limit risky rhetoric, and not share or post unprofessional tweets or images – you can have a single Twitter account with dual purposes. Bonus – you can track audience engagement and view data about your connections using Twitter Analytics.

Here are some tips to creating a strong brand on Twitter (Lee, 2019)

  • Sharpen your profile
    • “Have a clear image for your brand and what you do
    • A clear picture of your face (not your company logo)
    • An excellent cover photo
    • Link to relevant pages about you (about.me, LinkedIn, etc.)
    • A strong Twitter bio
    • Link to your blog”
  • Be active daily – spend time engaging with others. Use a tool like TweetDeck to schedule posts over time (it’s free and I use it daily!)
  • Follow leaders and influencers in your industry. Create a list of the top minds and thought leaders, follow them, like their tweets, retweet their tweets, add value with your own original post to accompany the share.
  • Add value in your tweets with @tags, trending hashtags, sharing other people’s posts when it is relevant to your stream, followers, or industry
  • Create original posts. You can be personal. Share a success, funny (yet appropriate) joke or cartoon, photo, or infographic. It’s OK to show your personality.
  • Join a conversation with Twitter chats. A lot of professional organizations host these. Check out #Mediachat, #Twittersmarter, #CustServ
  • If you have a blog – share your posts
  • If you get published or quoted – share your posts, tag the publication, thank the author.
  • Share relevant videos and images – they attract more engagement
  • Practice self-advocacy, Share the good news.
  • Be your authentic self. Do pretend to be something you are not.

Instagram icon circle

“Instagram is particularly powerful for growing and scaling your personal brand. The best way to build your personal brand is to give people a look into your life. To give them a chance to meet the “real” you.”

Neil Patel, The Daily Egg

Create one private Instagram account and one Instagram professional account

Personal account: Similar to the rules on Facebook – reserve this account for friends, family, neighbors, select colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested in photos, videos, and stories about your kids, pets, social life, and favorite hot spots. As stated previously, avoid profanities, scandalous photos or videos, and be mindful of the impression left behind with controversial or political posts.

Professional account: You can create another account off of your personal account so you can manage them both within the app. Professional Accounts allow you to link to your Facebook professional page. Professional accounts include contact information, category label, insights for metrics, secondary inbox, and ranked requests. Bonus – you can track your user engagement and effectiveness using Instagram Insights.

Tips on building a personal brand with Instagram (Patel, 2019)

  • Just be yourself
  • Maintain a theme with your posts and be intentional. For your posts focus on your core competencies and don’t go rogue or suddenly shift from a path without explanation
  • Promote your blog to increase traffic and gain new followers
  • Use geotagging to better connect to your audience
  • Use apps (not filters) to improve photos such as Adobe Lightroom, FaceTune, or Afterlight
  • Reply to all comments even just to acknowledge or say thanks
  • Tag other trending brands with intention (make sure it is relevant and in-context with your posts’ subject matter)
  • Disarm yourself and get personal – be sure to mix in personal photos or custom creations so help your audience feel more connected

Examples (“professional” channels)

One CRITICAL aspect of creating a professional persona on your social channels is CONSISTENCY. When people search for your name, it is important they find YOU. A few ways to help ensure a prospective client, employer, or valued contact finds you includes:

REcommendationExamples
Use the same profile image on all social channelsRebecca Cooney
Use the same cover image in Facebook and TwitterRebecca Cooney
Use the same @username or similar variation@RLCooney, @rebeccallcooney
Use similar bio information – include @tags and hashtagsClinical Associate Professor @murrowcollege @wsupullman since ‘12. Director, Murrow Online Programs. Research Assoc. for NaPDI. #OnlineCougs #GoCougs
Post blog posts across all channelsPosts will vary slightly for each in image size and message – use @tags and hashtags to increase reach and improve engagement

Take a look… my personal vs. professional social media presence

@rebeccallcooney professional FB page
@professorcooney professional IG page
@RLCooney Twitter page (personal and professional)
@rebeccacooney6 personal FB account
@rebecca.l.cooney personal IG page

Final thoughts

Even though it is my general recommendation that emerging and seasoned professionals have both a personal and professional presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – I want to be sensitive to those who are not comfortable “putting themselves out there” or have valid fears of being too accessible. Protecting yourself and setting boundaries around personal safety and security are important considerations. To learn more about how to manage your social media privacy settings, check out an article from the University of Texas at Austin Center for Identity and their breakdown of each social media channel and steps you can take to secure your most sensitive information.

Social media management is not as easy as it seems. If you are not prepared to fully engage in your channels and contribute on a regular basis, you may just want to keep it simple for now and focus on your primary accounts. Take steps to edit your current profiles so you showcase yourself in the best professional light possible. As a starting point, conduct your own mini digital footprint audit using the template below. It is the first step in to creating the narrative you want. Don’t let others define who you are or who you want to be. Take control, be strong, and know how valuable you are.


References


#KeepGoing #KeepGrowing

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Professional Pathways – Never Stop Learning series. Check out more posts in the Professional Pathways category.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Cooney is a Clinical Associate Professor of Strategic Communication and Director of Murrow Online Programs at The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She is also a Research Associate for the Center of Excellence for Natural Product-Drug Interaction Research. Rebecca has more than 26 years of professional experience. Her core areas of expertise include user experience design, integrated communication, brand strategy, and digital communications. She holds a BA in organizational communications and MS in communications and is the recipient of the 2019 Oaks Award for innovation in teaching, 2015 Scripps Howard Visiting Professor in Social Media, and 2014 Plank Center Educator Fellow awards.

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