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Being Professionally Personable on Facebook

Aug. 14, 2015 Harvard Business Review

Companies use Facebook pages to harness the power of its network to reach business goals, and individuals can do the same thing: particularly if you’re an author or other recognized expert, you can create a Facebook page for your professional identity, and promote that page just like any other brand presence.

But most of the time we’re on Facebook we are using our personal accounts, so especially if you’re open to friending your colleagues it’s crucial to think about how you’ll manage your personal account in relation to your professional identity. That’s because life on Facebook increasingly spans both the personal and professional. We use Facebook to share our professional news: career accomplishments, job changes, requests for business advice, or posting links to industry-related content. We also use Facebook to share our personal news: stories about the kids, photos of the family, hysterical YouTube cat videos, and political rants.

When these two worlds collide, it can get awkward. Your boss may have second thoughts about your prospects for professional advancement if you like posting late-night ramblings. Your college buddies may simply unfollow you if you keep filling up your Facebook feed with industry updates or plugs for your business. So how do you keep these worlds separate, without cutting yourself off from either the personal or professional benefits of Facebook? Here’s what I recommend:

Use your restricted list.
Facebook automatically provides you with a “restricted” list: a list of people you are friends with, but who don’t get to see the content you’re only sharing with (good) friends. This is the answer to managing all those people who send you friend requests you feel like you have to accept (like your boss), but who you don’t actually want to privilege with the intimate details of your day-to-day life. A good rule of thumb is to put anyone you know professionally on your restricted list, so that you don’t share your friend updates with those people. (For step-by-step instructions on how to use the restricted list, see this post.)

Create your own lists.
In addition to the broad distinction between friends and the people on your restricted list, you can make lists that include specific people and have specific viewing permissions. I have a small list of people I call my “kid sharing friends”; they’re the only people who see photos or news about my kids, unless it’s a story that I think will be relevant to a wider audience. It’s not that I think my Facebook friends list is full of child predators; I just know that not everybody recognizes how utterly fascinating my children are. You can use the same approach to target other audiences: professional colleagues, co-workers in your company, best girlfriends, or fellow baseball enthusiasts.

Target each post. 
Whenever you’re posting to Facebook, get into the habit of thinking about who you want to share that content with. Facebook’s posting interface includes a little button right beside the “post” button, where you can choose to share a post with “public,” “friends” (i.e. everyone who isn’t on your restricted list”, “only me” (something you’re just recording for your personal reference). You can also use the “more options” button to choose one of the custom lists you’ve created, or even to name the specific people who should see this particular post. I generally make content “public” when it’s related to my professional interests, so that even people on my restricted list get to see my professional news and insights. The exciting details on what I ate for breakfast or how I am feeling about my hair are limited to my friends.

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