Navigating between personal and professional posts on social media can be like walking through an etiquette minefield. Whether you’re tweeting in 140 characters or posting family vacation photos to Facebook, it’s tough to know which topics are off-limits. “The problem with social media is that it’s relatively new,” says etiquette consultant Jay Remer. “Using it properly hasn’t really caught on yet.”
Should I even bother? Your gut reaction may be to abstain from social media and avoid the issue, but that’s not always smart. Social media is a useful tool. It can promote your business and personal brand, and it can help you network. If you’re not on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, it may appear that you’re out of touch to a client or recruiter searching your name online.
The nuts and bolts of all these platforms are similar—you publish links, photos and comments—but the expectations are different. A LinkedIn account is for your professional life. Facebook and Twitter give you more wiggle room, with the tone of your posts and bio helping to define them as professional or personal. Remember that objective before each post to keep your profile on-topic and appropriate. If your feed is for personal purposes—keeping in touch with family and friends—then tighten your privacy settings. But private or not, remember that posts and photos can leak, so err on the conservative side.
Can I connect with the boss? Yes, depending on the platform. For example, LinkedIn is almost always appropriate because the site is for professional contacts. Following a professional page on Facebook is fine (you’ll recognize a professional profile by its “likes” or “followers”). But don’t “friend” a boss or subordinate.
Twitter falls somewhere in between, because professionals may use it for networking or posting work-related links and comments. Take a cue from the kind of content a co-worker posts. And if you don’t feel comfortable accepting a “friend” or “follow” request from a co-worker, you don’t have to accept it.
Can I post personal updates on my professional account? You should—with a few caveats. A steady stream of professional posts can be boring and robotic. An occasional personal status update spices up and humanizes your feed. The trick is to draw the line between sharing and oversharing. Choose a topic or two—say, biking and music—and restrict lifestyle posts to those subjects. Your followers will know what kinds of personal updates to expect from you without feeling overwhelmed by intimate details.