A couple weeks ago I was having lunch with one of my PR friends when the conversation turned to social media. My friend confessed that he carefully guards his online identities stating the infamous, “I like to keep my personal life personal.”

While I can certainly appreciate the desire to keep some things out of the public eye, you cannot have a successful online identity without being personal. After all, that’s what social networking is all about.

In reality, meeting people online isn’t much different than meeting them in person. The only change I’ve found is that meeting people online makes us a little bit braver. It’s easier to introduce yourself to someone online. You can comment on their blog, post a message on their wall or send them an @Reply. If they don’t respond there’s no humiliation involved. No awkward silence, no fumbling over words, no patronizing stares.

The trouble comes when the rules we follow in professional settings are broken online. In real life you may not share your college spring break experience with business associates, but you probably wouldn’t be afraid to talk about your latest golf outing, favorite restaurant or summer vacation. There’s a reason why many business deals are made on the golf course.

It’s all about personal connections. As much as the internet has “isolated” us it is still important to connect with people. Sometimes it’s not possible to meet face to face. Instead we settle for reading their Twitter streams, blogs or cataloging their hobbies on Facebook. In the end, we want to be able to look that person in the eye (or at least their profile) and know that we’ll get along. Know that we have some things in common outside the business world.

Consequently, the idea of separating your personal life from your professional life online is no smarter than doing so in real life. There are some things that would be smarter not to share online (discriminating photos, off-color jokes, stories about crazy nights in Mexico), but creating an online presence that is devoid of personality will do you no good either.

What’s your take? Have you had trouble separating your personal life from your professional life online? Are there any rules you follow?


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