The do’s and don’ts of professional networking on social media

On LinkedIn, the lines between personal and professional posts are often blurred. What should you avoid posting in order to protect your personal brand? Consider these insights.

These are the kinds of headlines many PR pros expect to see when logging in to LinkedIn:

We just had our first baby, and isn’t she beautiful?

Please think of my family member in his time of need.

This politician said that, and it makes me so mad.

Many are often prefaced with “I know this isn’t appropriate for a professional networking site, but…”

PR and marketing pros, listen to your gut. LinkedIn is a place to pitch yourself as an expert in your field, not your life story.

Posting personal content feels more similar to the moments on “Shark Tank” when the pitch has failed and the contestants resort to their inspiring—yet irrelevant—personal stories.

Knowing your audience

Personal content isn’t inappropriate for a professional networking site. It often stands out in a way that it wouldn’t on Facebook or Twitter.

Although human interest stories that evoke emotion will naturally attract more eyeballs than boring listicles about office etiquette, to see shares and “likes” in LinkedIn, there must be some tie-in to the poster’s professional image or personal brand.

John Nemo writes about that phenomenon in a LinkedIn post:

One of the most personal posts I’ve ever penned on any social network (let alone a “professional” one like LinkedIn) generated hundreds of page views, likes and commentsmuch to my surprise.

Although his posts often include personal struggles, each purposefully transitions to business lessons.

From Nemo:

I’m not talking about you spewing out a nonstop stream of puppy photos, bible verses or personal opinions on LinkedIn. I’m talking about tying in personal stories from your own life into the business-themed content you share on LinkedIn.

How personal content can hurt—or help—your brand

One prominent example comes from Candice Galek, the owner of Bikini Luxe, a designer swimwear boutique.

To LinkedIn’s scorn, she posted pictures of people modeling her swimwear. The pictures caused a predictable uproar, and LinkedIn suspended her account, reinstating it only after she complained.

From Galek on what she learned:

I did not put these pictures up on LinkedIn to offend or humiliate anyone. I just wanted to sell swimsuits.

She did just that. Her sales jumped 20 percent in two weeks, and within 20 months she went from a coffee-table business to employing 40 staff. All this was in addition to the publicity value of the many stories and interviews about the posts that elicited the protests.

How brand managers should react

Posting personal stories on LinkedIn has a consequence: It erodes the barrier between users’ professional and personal lives.

If it’s inappropriate to post personal stories on LinkedIn, should it also be inappropriate for employers to vet prospective hires’ Facebook accounts? Executives often find personal content irresistible, and lower-level employees increasingly find employers’ intrusions non-negotiable.

It’s a dilemma, to say the least.

Social media platforms tend to look more alike every day. Instagram is taking a page out of Snapchat’s book; even Bumbl, a dating app, is launching a professional networking service.

Clever PR pros shouldn’t gripe at the blurry lines; instead, they must do what they do best and innovate accordingly.

Carlin Twedt is the marketing and social media manager at Ragan Communications. You can connect with him on Twitter at @Carl_In_Tweets. This article was previously published on PR Daily in September 2016.

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