Awkward Social Media Relationships: Inevitable?

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I ran across this on Facebook the other day:

Brutal. Thankfully, my parents aren’t there yet. But more and more I’ve got coworkers, friend’s parents, industry peers and clients “friending” me on Facebook. I enjoy seeing these folks on a more human level as it’s hard to feel connected with someone you’ve never met or only know on a stuffy professional level.

But are these relationships hurting our careers? If you are conscious of the way you are using social media and actively managing your online reputation then I doubt it. But I would venture to guess that they aren’t helping either (your boss does not need to see that on Halloween you dressed up in a giant cardboard box with Barbie dolls glued to it and called yourself a babe magnet).

Not that I have anything to hide, or had any horror stories involving gratuitous party pictures, I’m just not sure that I’m completely comfortable with blending my personal and professional lives like that. Even if your pictures are tame, chances of being judged based political views, supported groups, and comments from friends are still significant. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m prepared for the discomfort that would likely ensue from a Facebook Friendship Denial (FBFD – officially coining that acronym right now) either.

One tip for Facebook users wanting to keep some personal and professional distance may take advantage of the list feature, coupled with privacy settings. Here’s how:

  1. On the left hand navigation of the main news feed there is an option to filter by group. Select “Create” to create a list of your choice.
  2. Name your new list (example: Professional) and select all of your desired contacts relevant to this list.
  3. Navigate to the Profile section within your Privacy Settings.
  4. Use the drop downs on any desired field and select “customize”.
  5. Here you can create rules that will control how others view your profile. To exclude an individual from seeing a certain type of content simply start typing their name and it should auto-populate. To exclude a group of people, type the name of the list you have created in steps 1 and 2.

For older, more established professionals I don’t see this as much of an issue beyond the preference of being able to maintain a separation between your personal and professional lives. For young professionals however, the reality is that you sometimes have to work extra hard to be taken as seriously as some of your older, more experienced counterparts. And the last thing you want is to be perceived as something anything other than strictly professional and capable of your responsibilities.

So how do you find a balance between maintaining your personal and professional relationships online? I think we are all still trying to figure things out, and I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this one. Care to share your tips?

AnvilRachel Andersen works for the Portland based SEM agency Anvil Media, Inc. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine marketing and specializes in SEO for large sites. Andersen has been responsible for the development and execution of dozens of search and social marketing campaigns over her time spent with Anvil.

Rachel Freeman

Rachel Freeman

Rachel Freeman works for the Jive Software, the pioneer and leading provider of social business solutions. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine... Read Full Bio
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  • Victornup

    I would like to add disabling the “tagged photo” feature. This takes control away from you and gives it to your friends who would like to show the world pictues of you dressed as Billy from Double Dragon.

  • Priya Florence Shah

    I think people increasingly want to be seen for themselves and to be seen as human, not perfect. I doubt a party photo would jeopardize your career, but yes, there are common sense rules that should be followed, such as not bad-mouthing colleagues and bosses on blogs or social networks (remember dooce.coom?). That would just be dumb. Also refrain from talking about your opinions on the opposite sex, especially if they’re not complimentary. The rule of thumb should be that anything you would not say to a new acquaintance should not be on a social network, unless you can filter your commentary for family and close friends only.

  • GP

    Does this apply to photos you’ve already been tagged in? I don’t even think Andy Beal could get me out of the mess I’m in sometimes, heh

  • Sinead O Donovan

    Great article. If you don’t at least try to control your online profile, somethings going to go wrong somewhere. Pity you can’t control what other people post about you online though 🙂

  • Rachel Andersen


    Thanks for your insights. I agree that, with a little common sense, it is relatively easy to avoid the mishaps we’ve been hearing about in the news these days.

    I think that this issue goes beyond overtly obnoxious behavior and party photos. It’s about the overall perception that clients, coworkers and bosses may glean from your personal life regardless of whether or not there is anything damning on there. This could be supported groups, political views, religious affiliations, anything.

  • Rachel Andersen

    GP – once you’ve set the privacy settings those pics can no longer be accessed on your profile by those you excluded.

  • Eric Maas

    I have to admit I am only letting my peer and other friend have access to my social networking pages. However in recent days I have added a younger cousin and two co-workers to my Facebook, and I find my self content editing everything now. I would hate to have my parents in the mix as well.