“Before making any conscious choice of preferred social media strategy, professionals should do a quick self-diagnosis of their current, most natural online behavior”

Before making any conscious choice of preferred social media strategy, professionals should do a quick self-diagnosis of their current, most natural online behavior. Do they value transparency and authenticity first and foremost? If they do, and thus post whatever comes to mind on social media, they embrace what we call an Open strategy. The key is to ensure that they understand this is risky. They might instead use a less risky Audience strategy, being careful to keep their professional and personal networks separate. For instance, an unreserved Facebook poster might learn to deflect friend requests from co-workers and professional contacts and direct them instead to a LinkedIn account. This not only avoids the danger of appearing unprofessional to colleagues but also the potential problem of seeming to speak as a representative of the employer. Individuals who adopt an Audience strategy, however, must be mindful that networks are fluid: people who begin as friends can later become co-workers, or even bosses – in which case, an Audience strategy can be compromised.

We heard from some professionals (and saw in a recent survey that 40% of respondents felt the same) that they feel compelled to accept friend requests from professional contacts. In that case, a Content strategy can be useful, which entails accepting these requests and resigning oneself to posting only carefully considered content. People who use this strategy post information and photos that project an image of professionalism, or at least do not undercut the reputation they are trying to earn with their boss, coworkers, and clients. The drawback with this strategy is of course that they can no longer vent or express vulnerability without a level of self-editing that may feel — and be perceived as — inauthentic. Even things they might consider innocuous to say in a work context could end up making waves if shared online.

It might not be obvious to everyone, but it is true: the more that posts are tailored to specific circles in a social world, the less risk there is that they will cause offense or embarrassment. Thus, for anyone willing to invest the time and effort, we recommend a more sophisticated strategy, the Custom strategy, in which social media users manage both their audience and their content. This is what Google+ was designed to facilitate. We also found people doing this on Facebook by creating two lists, one personal and another professional, and posting different content to these lists. Thus they safeguard their professional reputations while still maintaining an honest and lively Facebook identity. Custom strategies tend to be employed by journalists and public figures, who often set up distinct accounts to make absolutely clear when they are and aren’t speaking in a professional capacity.

Ariane Ollier-Malaterre and Nancy Rothbard, “How to Separate the Personal and Professional on Social Media”, Harvard Business Review (26 March 2015) [https://hbr.org/2015/03/how-to-separate-the-personal-and-professional-on-social-media]