10 ways to look your best on social media

It’s hard to separate personal from professional on social media. Follow these tips to make sure you and your brand are always at your best.


Many individuals, as well as corporations, would love to be able to distinguish professional interactions from personal ones on social media.

Can you really keep your professional and personal lives separate? To quote my accounting professor, it depends.

While I agree with Mari Smith that there are three categories on social media—personal, professional and private-the reality is nothing is ever private on social media, or the Internet for that matter.

Once you put information out there, it’s public. If there’s something you don’t want anyone to know, don’t put it on social media. Even if you believe it’s private, there’s always the chance someone will expose it. (Here are the social media 10 commandments.)

Even if you spend a lot of time on social media, periodically review how you present yourself. Here are 10 points to help you decide how to best show yourself professionally and personally.

1. Be a real person. People expect interactions on social media to seem human. Even if you represent a firm, be yourself and respond as you would to another human being. This means communicate like you would in real life with real language—not corporate speak.

2. Be transparent. This doesn’t grant you permission to tell all. It means you need to be open about who you are and what you represent, particularly if you’re acting on behalf of a company.

3. Keep private information private. Don’t be a social media gossip monger. (Are you addicted to social media?) You must be comfortable with the level of information you reveal on social media platforms. Regardless of your privacy settings, once the information is out there, it’s possible others will find it.

It’s not just about you and your life. Consider your family, friends, colleagues and company. If you’re on social media for your organization, know its expectations. Use common sense and don’t expose financial or personal information. As a firm, it’s critical to have social media guidelines and a PR crisis management plan.

4. Do a personality strip tease. Remove one veil at a time. Let your audience get to know you over a long period of time to build a bond. Reveal some of your personality to demonstrate you’re a real person and show who you are in real life. Even if you represent your company, you’re not a firm mascot. You’re a real person. If more than one employee handles an account, each one should identify himself in some way. The same holds true for people who are their own business.

5. Show respect for others. Bloggers, authors and others on social media work to create their content just like you do. Social media doesn’t reward people who steal the spotlight and pass off other people’s ideas and content as their own. Content creators own their intellectual property and deserve credit on social media and search. This extends to platforms such Pinterest, blog archives, and content aggregation sites. It’s wrong to republish someone’s posts on your site under your URL.

6. Avoid inflammatory remarks. Skip the four letter words. While it works for some people like Erika Napoletano, it’s generally not a great way to win social media friends, especially if you’re building a business or working for an established company.

A good way to determine whether something is acceptable is the mother test. Would it embarrass your mom? If so, don’t say or show it on social media. Remember, the Internet’s memory is forever.

7. Count to 10 before you respond. Social media can be challenging since your reactions can transfer straight to your fingertips without stopping at your brain. As a result, your emotional response rushes onto your screen without a second thought. This feedback can be hurtful to others and cause unanticipated repercussions, either immediately or in the future.

If you think you’re going to have this type of reply, step away from your computer. Remember, social media comes with responsibility.

8. Focus on a few specific topics. What’s your area of expertise? If you want people to recognize you on social media, have a focus. Think about where you want to concentrate your efforts. This is an area where you can distinguish between professional and personal.

9. Help others. Social media isn’t a solitary endeavor. It’s about the community and paying-it-forward. Contribute to other people’s content by being a guest blogger. Also, use curation. (Of course, you shouldn’t take other people’s intellectual property and showcase it as yours.) This is more obvious on business blogs, group blogs and websites.

10. Develop your social media gang. It takes time to build a community. Approach social media one person at a time. Build your circle of friends and connections over time. (Check out this piece on the influence of smaller circles.)

Realize that you may not be able to distinguish between the professional and personal. People who connect with you as a professional on one platform may want to connect on another that you view as personal.

How do you feel about professional and personal profiles on social media?

Heidi Cohen is president of Riverside Marketing Strategies. Follow her on Twitter @heidicohen.

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