As you may or may not know, every Saturday night at 9 PM EST, Stanford Smith and I co-host an informal chat called #Tweetdiner on Twitter. The goal is help people get used to Twitter and Twitter chats and also to answer questions that have been bothering people throughout the week. We have fun, too, I’ll have to admit.

Last night’s chat began with a tremendous question from my new friend @Viola_JustAsIAm. She asked whether she should have two Twitter accounts, one for personal use and one for professional use. This created quite the conversation, so I thought I would round up some thoughts here and see if we can continue this important conversation beyond the realm of #Tweetdiner.

Brand Symbiosis

Amber Naslund just published a post this week that she called Brand Symbiosis: Balancing Personal and Professional Online. In this post, Amber talks about the fact that in the online world, it’s nearly impossible to separate our professional selves from our personal selves. In fact, these portions of our personality (along with others) help feed each other – hence the symbiosis. We are able to enrich our professional persona by humanizing ourselves (with personality). SpamBots do not tend to be very personable once you get to know them. Our personal selves are enriched by the learning and sharing that we do as our professional selves.

A million and one questions

Brand symbiosis is probably how I would characterize what I try to do via my blog and my Twitter account. I’ll have fun, I’ll joke around, I certainly talk about things not business-related. But I also never forget where I am. I act and talk as if I was visiting a client, because, let’s be honest, it’s entirely possible that your existing and future clients are seeing everything you’re saying and doing anyway.

Where this gets complicated is when you get down to the tiny details that go into making an online persona that don’t often get discussed a lot in general conversations. Here are some questions that might be bothering you if you are trying to balance your professional and your personal life online.

Should my avatar/Twitter background/Blog bio show pictures of my family and me, or should it just be a professional picture of me smiling?

Should I list my faith in my Twitter bio and in my blog background or should I leave it out?

Should I comment on this or that political situation or should I censor portions of what I really believe?

Should I divulge that I am having health problems (or had them in the past) or should I keep that to myself?

And the questions go on and on, right back to Viola’s question. Should I have two Twitter accounts and two blogs so that I can get all of my thoughts out there?

How would you introduce yourself in a crowded room?

Your Twitter account or your blog – they’re kind of like going around shaking hands in a really crowded room. So let’s say you’ve gone to BlogWorld and there’s a tweet-up there. As you’re going around shaking hands, what do you say? Do you say, “Hi, I’m Sally and I’m a mom of three?” Do you say, “Hi, I’m Bob, and I’m the CMO for xyz corporation?” If you are using Social Media on a professional basis, the expectation is not (or in my opinion should not be) that we will get to know you like a best friend. The expectation is that ultimately, you’re out here trying to make money and grow your business, whatever that may be.

In the end, like everything else, the answers to all of these questions that come up will have to be answered based on what you want to accomplish. Because I work for a family-owned agency, and because the family owning the agency is my family, I feel responsible for being my best self out here in the online world. I don’t talk about religion or politics anywhere in my online reality even though I love discussing both. I don’t use swear words online (I’ll plead the fifth on whether I hold to that in real life). I don’t reserve those portions of my personality for a more personal account, because ultimately, it would get traced back to me here, I believe. I talk to you here as I would talk to you if you called me when I’m at work.

What works for you?

Ironically, how you choose to handle the balance of professional and personal is a personal decision only you can make. If you feel like censoring oneself is inauthentic, then don’t do it. If you feel like your religious beliefs are essential to an understanding of how you do business, then you need that there.

There is just one caution I’d toss out there if you choose to run multiple accounts. The chances are that there will be some overlap in the people who follow you and interact with you. Be prepared for the personal account to still have some impact on some of the people tied to your professional account. This online world – it’s fluid, and it’s easy to move from one place to another.

How are you approaching the balance between personal and professional? What questions are standing in front of you that you’d like to discuss? Let’s talk about them here!

image by Jan Willem Geertsma.