Balancing Your Personal and Professional Online Personas

Recently, one Ebyline commenter asked, “What happens if you are a freelancer whose primary income comes from news assignments from the local newspaper – and you start publishing a blog that reveals your opinions and specific interests (for example, you may be against abortion or an avid environmentalist or have opinions on global warming). Does this make you less attractive to the news paper as a freelance reporter?”

This question raised the concern many freelance journalist and content writers face when maintaining a public yet personal Twitter account and/or blog that voice their own opinions. The personal content published can potentially impact the relationship freelancers have developed with current clients, and impact potential relationships with new clients.

When deciding how to use social media personally while maintaining professional relationships, it’s important to keep in mind what kind of clients you want to work with, and where the line is you want to draw at compromising your own personal use of social media. One way to clearly establish your own ground rules and policies before getting into a precarious situation is to create a personal social media strategy, which can help you clearly set these expectations for both yourself and future clients.

Creating a personal social media strategy: You may have worked with clients who have developed a social media strategy for their business, or possibly even written this strategy for yourself. However, writing a personal social media strategy is an excellent way to establish your goals for using social media, what social networks you will and will not use, and what type of content you will and will not create – no matter what. This might take a deep internal look into your own personal beliefs, what you are comfortable sharing, and how much you are willing to allow your social media accounts to promote the companies for which you produce work. This strategy can be as casual or rigid as you need to set the expectation and goals for using social media. For example, if you want to use social media to voice your day-to-day personal experiences and not be a place to force the promotion of any content (whether yours or not), setting this expectation before you start working with a client can prevent the assumption that you would use your social media accounts otherwise. Alternatively, you may want to use your Twitter and blog to develop a personal brand, and need to set clear rules about how often you will promote content from your clients – and potentially, how much this will additionally cost.

Adding a disclosure: While creating a personal social media strategy is highly encouraged to prevent the assumption of expectations, sometimes a simple disclosure on your personal Twitter account and blog can be enough to set the expectation for current and potential clients that your social media and other online posts, updates and opinions do not reflect those of your clients. An example of such a disclosure may look like, “All tweets are my own own and not those of (insert employer or clients names here).” If you’re especially witty, feel free to make your disclosure less serious and more funny – as long as it gets the point across.

If all else fails, don’t say anything: However, if managing several social media accounts sounds like too much work – and still could potentially place you in hot water with your clients, it may be best to just keep your opinions to yourself, posting your personal updates privately on Facebook and limiting who can see your posts. Other options may include a password protected blog or a private Twitter account.

Not all potential clients will be as open to your opinions – especially if they are controversial or opposite to the standards of that particular company. Creating a personal social media strategy that helps clarify your own standards, whom you’re willing to work with and what compromises you’re willing to make for a client, along with implementing other measures to set the expectations for your personal use of social media, can help you prevent professional problems arising from personal content you have shared via social media platforms.

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