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Social Networking Mixes Professional and Personal Relationships


Most of us techies use social networking tools. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. From the very beginning each of these were developed with a specific networking context in mind. LinkedIn is a professional networking application, a tool that allows users to maintain contact with colleagues, customers and partners. Twitter was originally created so that individuals could broadcast short messages about their activities to friends. Facebook and MySpace were designed as purely social tools, as entertainment, but also as means to keep up on the personal happenings of friends and family.

But the use cases for each of these applications have expanded. The lines between what were professional and personal networking tools have blurred. The onus is now on users to draw their own lines. At question is where that line should be, or whether the line should exist at all. Do I want to expose personal friends to my professional self? Do I want colleagues and clients to have the same level of information about my personal tastes, thoughts and activities as I provide to personal friends?

Mind you, I have plenty of colleagues at my firm, at competing firms, within client organizations, and within non-clients that are friends. These are all people that I truly enjoy spending time and speaking with. But these are friends from a different context than those that I know from my personal life. While we may talk about some of the same things there is a personal space that is respected with work friends.

Social networking tools have plenty of privacy protections in place. You can block followers on Twitter. Connection invites on LinkedIn can be ignored. Access to MySpace and Facebook content can be restricted. However, actually using these privacy features can hurt feelings and can create distance in relationships both personal and professional. With regard to professional relationships the easiest way to resolve this issue is actually to become less sensitive by respecting preferences, the lines people draw, and not read too much into them.

1 Comment
Frequent Contributor


I completely agree -- lines certainly are blurred. To some degree, I now 'censor' myself on Facebook updates because I know I've got work colleagues alongside friends of varying degrees of closeness listening in.  With the bad economy, I've also noticed that more distant work colleagues are reaching out to me on Facebook as well as LinkedIn, desperate to connect in hopes of finding jobs.

I would like to see the social networking sites developing some new functionality to help me manage this better.

What I really want are multiple 'circles' of friends on Facebook, such as "cisco work", "family", "relatives", "dear friends", "contacts", etc.  When I publish an update I want to choose which circle(s) see it.  And, it should not tell any friend what circle they are in so as not to offend.  My own content management system!  Then I can share different information with different groups of people, just as I would talking to them directly.

LinkedIn urges you to only add those people who you know well and who know you.  However, I get invitations from people I meet (example: I went to a conference and met someone and they sent me a linkedin invitation in lieu of a business card) and people that I have in the past or current distantly worked with.  I wouldn't mind keeping track of them but they aren't a friend, colleague, or any other LinkedIn categorization.  What I would really like is a "contact" classification to let my network know I know this person but no stronger relationship.