Private or Personal in Social Media?


I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the personal, professional and private information we share online, especially in light of all of the recent discussions about the changes to Facebook’s privacy policy. I actually believe that online privacy is more of an illusion than it is reality, but maintaining our privacy is something that deserves more thought than many of us devote to it. This is especially true for those of us who make our living online.

Last week, I discussed how you can be both personal and professional in social media:

You can actually be professional and personal at the same time in social media without too much effort. When we talk about “being personal” on social media web sites, I think that many people confuse “personal” with “private.” The reality is that you get to decide what to share and what not to share, so you can still keep most areas of your private life private.

Now, let’s talk about the private information. Sites like Facebook can change their policies at any time to make information that was once private become public. Ed Gubbins on GigaOM Pro (subscription required) points out that “to satisfy their privacy concerns, users will have to take a more sophisticated and hands-on approach to managing their accounts, and that means Facebooking is going to get more complicated.”

For those of us who work mainly online, this means that we need to be especially careful about what we share and how we share it. In general, I don’t share anything that would be devastating if a client, prospective employer or family member read it. In fact, my mom, my sister, other family members and clients all follow my Twitter feed and/or Facebook status, so they see much of what I say online. I’m not going to say anything that would damage those relationships even in areas that seem to be more “private.”

I consider everything that I share online, even in “private” areas,  to be public information. If I would be embarrassed to have a family member or client see it, I don’t post it. Keep those drunken ramblings, too much information (TMI) moments, and other sensitive data off of the social media sites if you need to also maintain your professionalism online.

How do you balance what information you keep private vs. what you post online?

Photo by Flickr user Ted Percival used under Creative Commons.



Nice post. I agree that we should be careful about what we share and how we share it on social media sites.

Eugene Kan

Daniel: While I do agree to a certain extent with digital footprints lasting a long time… we’re currently on a road of desensitization via massive amounts of information making their way into our everyday.

Something previously considered “bad” or in “poor taste” I think will inevitably become more accepted/less impactful. Something like a Tiger Woods or a Kanye West x Taylor Swift outburst blows over much quicker than in the past cause we have so much stimulus rammed down our throats, effectively de-sensitizing us. That picture of you puking your guts out may not be as detrimental to your potential employer if he’s seen the same imagery from his own friends on a frequent basis.

Daniel McKean

Eugene: I agree as a society we are desensitizing how we react to information due to information overload. But I guess the point I was trying to make was coming from how sharing too much or not the right personal information as a business professional (especially those of us who count on our reputations that can be scrutinized online for business related purposes) should be carefully considered before you put it out there in the public domain. Then, as you alluded, there is the discussion as to how social activity is replacing the conventional resume with both employers and recruiters who are starting to pre-screen applicants based upon what they find online. I simply think its best to practice social activities responsibly and know ahead of time that what you choose to post online can help you, and then again may not based upon how you engage. Foresight is key.

Daniel McKean

Dawn, nice post. It reinforces several posts of my own that point out that as professionals in the social sphere of influence, rules are simply different for us. Discretion and responsibility should always be practiced. Digital footprints have long memories. And who’s to say who will be googling us tomorrow or for that matter a year from now or longer and for what purpose, e.g., new business prospects, employers, recruiters… So it is prudent for us professionals in the social Web to remember, what and how we engage impacts our online reputations and personal brands that can reversely filter back into the real world.

Marvin Wilson

Rick, you hit the nail on the head.

I don’t share truly private things, either. But when I’m around my friends and family, the conversation can go any and everywhere.

If an employer or client goes out of their way to find “dirt” on me to disqualify me for a job or project, then that’s their loss.

I refuse to walk around as if I’m walking on eggshells. That’s so ridiculous.

When I’m among friends and family, I get to be me. When I’m at your office, I behave based on the culture.

Henry Elliss, Tamar

Nice post. My take on the whole privacy debate is simple – this isn’t new to Social Media, it’s always been round. There are dozens of great examples where people’s private e-mails have become very public when pranksters sent them round to their friends, or when mobile-phone photos have ‘gone public’. At the end of the day, if you want to say something private to someone, the only way you can guarantee it won’t get out in to the open is if you say it to them in person. Any other medium and you can’t be surprised if it’s not as secure as you’d hope.


in “twin peaks” serie: investigators says: secrets are dangerious

when posting information online, even if it seem to bi in private channel, note that one day it won’t be anymore. It seem to be same with normal life, sooner or later we will have to forget about privacy.


And that’s the issue, Mary-Lynn – we all worry about what happens if we’re human. That reaction is a perfectly reasonable one… with friends. That’s why the GigaOm comment is silly – what, 17 year olds (or 34 year olds who don’t spend all of their time online talking about SM) are supposed to become proficient at sophisticated privacy control? Please.

Again, I’m not really talking about sharing truly private things, I’m talking about the fact that there are different contexts for sharing – close friends, friends, casual acquaintances, clients, family – and social media sucks at reflecting that so we’re left with the choice of being too open or with being buttoned up and appropriate at all times.


Dawn, here’s a true story. I was watching a Chicago Bears game a couple of weeks ago (the one that went into overtime vs the Vikings). I was SHOCKED at how many of my Facebook friends were dropping the F-bomb when the Bears pulled out the win. I mean, imagine a potential client doing a google search just to find your indexed blue reaction to a football game!?!?!

I am always conscience of what I post, what time I post it, and how revealing I am of my location at any given time, etc.

I really work hard to keep a good balance between personal & professional. You don’t have to put it all out there to be authentic. Great topic!

Eugene Kan

Luckily my industry doesn’t place too much judgement on the Tweets and post-work activities of any one personality in the industry. Subsequently, I’m pretty much the same on and offline and will say the same things via my social media platforms, cussing included. Whether it will come back to bite me in the ass down the road, words not so much but I think anything visual has a larger possibility.

In Facebook I make sure nobody can see my tagged photos, not that it really matters, I do make sure that regardless of the setting, I try to stay out of precarious situations haha.


It’s an interesting point and easy enough for those of us who are now working so can see what’s being posted with a view of ‘what if other people see this’.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen when people who aren’t currently working and are happily posting pictures of themselves and their mates online suddenly find that, possibly, not all of that information should be there.


I make it a rule to never ever post private information online. Since it is a given that anything you put online will become a part of the public domain, I assume that every client, friend and even my parents will read it. So I write accordingly.

Bob Iliff

I think Facebook is too “wide” for developing deeper, personal group content. I am trying to encourage my “family” to launch a private Google Site where pictures of tattoos from the Generation Y members don’t offend the Baby Boomers (who would know of these privately anyway) simply because the present audience is known by all, and managed collectively. But that gets you into the whole ground up wiki conundrum. Still, I think that is the right path forward for generating better personal content while isolating potentially private information from other professional web artifacts.

Comments are closed.