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How Do You Balance Your Personal and Professional Social Media Presence?

I started on Twitter 6 1/2 years ago as @MarketingProfs, sharing headlines from the site and representing the brand there. Then about a year ago I resuscitated @AnnHandley on Twitter as a personal ID—a handle I’d been squatting on for years but never used.

Why now? I guess the easiest answer is that it seemed a fitting time to do so, because I had started to feel that Twitter itself had shifted.

In 2007, when I started on Twitter, things felt a bit under the radar. It was quieter. I started and assumed the ‘Profs Twitter account almost by default, because it made sense at the time. (Although now I think MarketingProfs is one of very few major B2B brands whose Twitter account is run solely by a shareholder. Do you know of another? Let me know.)

Yet now, as Twitter has grown in influence as both a social platform and a communication channel for companies, and as the MarketingProfs account has climbed to 225K followers, I’ve realized I had recalibrated the way I interact with people there, almost by accident. It’s been a subtle shift, but an important one.

This idea was on my mind when a question came up at a marketing event where I spoke recently: How do you balance the personal and professional on social networks?

In the moment, I advocated for a blending of the two. At its heart, that’s the real opportunity of social media, isn’t it? People do business with people—not faceless, soulless edifices. Don’t you want your prospects and customers online to have an opportunity to get to know you, just as your friends, colleagues and contacts in real life do?

However, since that event, I’ve given the subtleties of the matter and my own behavior a little more thought.

So, how do you balance these two sides of your online identity? Is it one over the other for you? Or are they one and the same? Here’s how I approach it:

Community trumps curation. At both of my Twitter accounts, this is the approach that guides my effort: Connecting with others in a kind of loose community, and finding the interesting and relevant amidst the abundance. (The “curation.”)

But at the @MarketingProfs account, I tend to emphasize community over curation even more—because I feel a responsibility to represent and respond both to complaints and to kudos on behalf of the larger organization.

Business casual versus bar casual. In both of my accounts, I am who I am: My “bigger story” on both accounts is that I’m waging a war on content mediocrity, and I truly want to find the interesting and relevant. It’s in both my bios. But I do that with more brand-centric perspective @marketingprofs; on @annhandley, I tend to have a broader view.

social cookies
And I’m a bit looser at the account with my name on it, too, sharing my Instagram photos and personal perspectives that I might not share from MarketingProfs. It’s not that what I do on @annhandley wouldn’t be appropriate on @marketingprofs—just using that word makes me feel like an old-school librarian shushing rowdy patrons!

It would, of course. It’s just that it seems more—I don’t know… fitting?—sharing them with a smaller group of contacts.

What about you? You might be the owner of a cupcake truck. But your bigger story could be that you are passionate about locally sourced food or community-centered activism. Or perhaps you’re just an advocate of embracing the simple joys in life. It could be anything. What matters is that it’s simply true.

(I almost wrote “What matters is that it’s authentic.” But “authentic” has become one of those social buzzwords that has had all the color and life drained out of it, leaving an empty husk of meaning behind. So I didn’t.)

Personalized, but not personal. Social platforms do present an opportunity to show more of the people behind a company. But there’s a fine line between sharing yourself and sharing a little too much of yourself. Actually, I walk this line on both of my accounts.

Think of personalizing your brand, not getting personal.

The former means showing that you’re a real human being, with actual blood flowing through actual veins. You have a point of view, real character, a personality.

The latter is sharing details that are intimate or too specific to you to have relevance for the larger community you are trying to build.

Exactly where that line is varies according to your own brand and that of your company. But to give a broad example: It’s one thing to mention feeling under the weather—that’s personalized. It’s another to say you have an irritating rash in a sensitive spot.

Allergic to too much automation. Obviously, there are many tools that can help manage and scale your social presence. IFTTT (If This Then That) automates tasks such as auto-saving Instagram photos to Dropbox or creating a Facebook update when you check in on Foursquare. SocialOomph, Buffer, and others can help you manage multiple accounts and multiple users, as well as see the analytics behind your efforts. For growing companies, these tools can be handy time savers.

But I don’t rely on automation tools as social shortcuts. And more generally, that day on stage, I suggested that people use them to extend and ease their efforts, not supplant them.

I’d like to say that here, in 2014, everyone understands this already. But if I had a nickel for every time I got a robo-sent automated direct messages to greet me as a new Twitter follower… well, I’d never fly coach again.

(I get a lot every day, on both accounts. Do you do it? OMG. Stop.)

In social media (and in life, I suppose), true engagement trumps technology.

And by the way, I realize that I’m talking mostly about Twitter here. Probably because Twitter seems less constrained, less boxed-in than most other social networks, at least to me. Despite its longevity, Twitter persists as a bit of the Wild West (thank god)—with fewer implied rules and a broader mix of people hanging out there, from teens and Walking Dead to March Madness fans to news outlets.

So that’s how I approach it. I suppose some people do all this from one account; I just happen to do it from two.

But what about you? I’d love to know how you work it out.

Total Annarchy

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53 Responses to How Do You Balance Your Personal and Professional Social Media Presence?

  1. Ann,
    You do a terrific job of integrating your “profs” persona with “Ann.” Both of your personas are very authentic. I like your point about “personalizing your brand without getting too personal.”

    Thanks for sharing your thinking on this topic. It’s a very relevant one.

  2. Nice piece. I found a similar situation arising, so I split my tweets to tech updates and retweeting from @thenextweb at @petherick_ with more personal information at @petherick.

    It’s very true that twitter has evolved, but I still find it’s THE best place for interaction as it is, as you rightly say “less constrained, less boxed-in than most other social networks”.

    Thanks for sharing Ann.

  3. Justin Tymes says:


    This is a fitting post because I think a lot of small businesses struggle with this decision. I know I do personally as an owner of a small, family-owned business. People will seek me out personally on social media rather than our company pages at times for customer service questions. I also use my personal accounts to promote my business because I know my personal social circles will share a post and provide feedback more readily. It’s certainly a thin line these days, and I often debate just using one account on certain platforms. I think the decision to use multiple accounts stems from the fact that while I certainly am the main representative of a small business, not all of my personal posts are in the same vein as those that would draw someone to follow our company.

    • Ann Handley says:

      Right. I think you and I are pretty aligned here. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Even if only for giving *me* some guidelines on what I share, where.

  4. Dana Ironside says:

    Question: Do you allow anyone to follow you @AnnHandley for the broader personal perspective? Or do you leave that community a bit more narrow to those you truly know vs. MarketingProfs anyone can follow? Or do you allow anyone at both to follow you? I struggle with the anonymous followers on Twitter and sharing too much “personal” there.

    • Ann Handley says:

      Dana: Both accounts are un-protected; meaning, anyone can follow me who chooses to do so. Maybe by default, I tend to be more connected to people @annhandley who I know personally… not always. But often they are friends, people I met at a conference, or people I have some overlap with, in one way or another. Many of those also follow me @MarketingProfs, and I follow them. But in general the ‘Profs account also has a giant amount of people more interested in marketing than in Ann.

      Re your “personal” struggle: That’s why I long ago figured out personal vs. personable. And I am for the latter, on both.

  5. Mike Myers says:

    Great post. I have enough trouble keeping up with one account, so I wondered how you do it. To your point about auto-welcome messages, I received one last month that acknowledged it was an auto-message, but it came anyway. Clueless. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Love this post, Ann, because it’s so relevant to my online presence.

    I often sigh over my “multiple personality disorder” when it comes to the Internet. I have led (and in some cases still lead) digital lives as a mommy blogger, a B2B blogger, a writing blogger, a columnist … you get the idea.

    I’m trying to figure out my “through line” – the overarching theme that runs through all my work and my life. I’m pretty sure I have one, but I haven’t yet been able to articulate it in a way that makes sense for more than 30 seconds.

    I hope I can figure it out, though, because I would love to keep my online presence streamlined (vs. spread across multiple identities).

    Thanks for the great food for thought and advice.

    PS – I love your Instagrams, so I hope you always share those! 🙂

    • Ann Handley says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Jamie! I understand how you would relate! For me, that “through line” is as I reference above: Waging a war on content mediocrity. But I apply it in different ways and emphasizing different things.

      From my outsider’s perspective, I’d say it’s similar for you — given your own writing.

  7. Armen says:

    Basically I have one persona, but tiers of exposure.

    There are things that everyone should see…my professional persona, what I want the man off the street to know…these feeds go to LinkedIn. LinkedIn feeds Twitter so my non-linkedin followers can see what I’m doing.

    At the next level, Youtube and Tumblr is my fun/creative stuff, and they also feeds into Twitter. I’m mostly connected to Social Media and Authors on Twitter and Tumblr is where I am currently hosting my not so well curated book website.

    Now you have Goodreads,Pinterest,Flicker and Facebook. My twitter feed, Pinterest and Flicker all go to Facebook. Ultimately everything feeds into Facebook, since my closest friends should see the “whole” me whether its professional posts or creative or just be blathering on something.

    G+ is tough, because I cross post things to there by hand. Mostly I keep in touch with Google Glass people there.

    I really have 1 persona, that as you get closer to me, you see more and more of it. It’s like the universe. depending on the telescope you see more or less of me. Social media is just a way or organizing it. Eventually you’ll have to send me email or talk to me on the phone or the full effect, interact with me in person. 🙂

    • Ann Handley says:

      Hi Armen — I like that a lot: Tiers of exposure. I think you articulated what I was trying to… across all social channels, it’s all ME. It’s just a slightly different skew on who I am.

  8. Laura Crest says:

    Thank you, Ann, for so astutely addressing what has been on my mind for some time! I’ll definitely be sourcing this fine piece in my next article (if that’s okay w/you?). 🙂

  9. I keep my personal and professional Twitter accounts totally separate. I rarely have the same followers on both. This is because I have my personal friends on my personal account and they won’t want me banging on about business, conversely my business friends don’t necessarily want to know the latest comic I’m reading or the gig I went to last night. I like it this way, my personality comes through on both accounts but i talk about totally different things.

  10. Mark Masters says:

    Lovely post Ann,

    I always had an issue with this Jekyll & Hyde type approach and used to think that everything needed to sit behind a faceless logo on Twitter (and then a ‘whoooahh…sales message alert’ from everyone else) or an even more faceless Linked in company page, that espouses the ‘we are good…no we are very good’ approach.

    The moment I went for the angle of showing who I am as a normal person, who still messes up and works for a company called The ID Group, flipped everything.

    Sometimes it’s good to reaffirm this by reading from someone else.

    Cheers for your slant on this, sending you a pixelated looking high five.


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  12. Thank you for avoiding the admonition to be authentic! Much appreciated.

    I try to take a moment at least once a year to rant on Twitter about how I loathe — and, maybe more importantly, instantly UNfollow those who auto-DM me (I joke — seemingly into the void — that sorry, unfollowing those who auto-DM me is automatic)… And to beg that someone who’s a lot smarter than me please, for the love of god, write a nifty plug in I could buy to stop them. (I swear I’d pay $100/year… x1,000,000 subscriber base = pretty good steady revenue? I’ll even help market it, gratis…)

  13. I meant to add that I wish I were consistent in how I view this issue but I’m not. I too am squatting on a personal address, but do not have the chutzpah to keep up with two accounts. So my solution is… pretend the issue doesn’t exist? Ug.

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  15. Ilona says:

    Hi Ann,

    That’s a topic worth our attention! And I’ve been thinking about it myself a lot lately… Watching my generation Y sinking in the online presence, makes me think the line between the personal and professional is so close. Personally, I always think twice before posting anything (especially on LinkedIn) as I care about the value (and the relevance!) of the content I share with the rest of the world. But I guess it’s mainly because of my work in communications.

    I agree that today we have this amazing possibility to get to know people we do business with just by checking their online presence. So simple, so easy and becomes more personal when talking to someone working in another continent. But I think there should always be a slight separation between the two worlds so that we can really appreciate most of our private moments in real time.


    • Ann Handley says:

      I agree with your last point 100%, Ilona.

    • I find that because everything is instant that I have a responsibility to utilize social media channels for good and refrain from polluting “the air waves”. Even on a personal level, I mentor friends and family members. I feel its important to be consistent: add value, educate and inform, shorten learning cycles, uplift and encourage-be real

  16. Louise says:

    I get what you mean about “fitting”.

    I’ve always tweeted on my @changememe handle, but am more active on it since my sabbatical started (I was made redundant last year). I doubt that there’s a noticeable change in the content of what I post – but I find I am no longer “self-editing” in the way I did while working for a financial services company.

    As a free agent” I am more likely to post images and use humour – it’s much more my own style. It fits me.

    (And I’m with you on the auto DMs, please make it stop!)

  17. I’m Mary D’Rozario for all my professional accounts and then I have a screen name I’ve used for 100 years for all my personal accounts. I have two Twitter accounts, two Instagram accounts and two websites and everything that there is one of is meant to be primarily professional or primarily personal. If someone Google searches my real name, I want them to get primarily professional material.

    Plus, the people who gel with me on view of the world don’t necessarily want to see all of my wonky health care & social media tweets and my wonky connections don’t need to see more than one vacation picture. I only have about a fingers & toes count of people who have linked to me on both sides of the fence.

  18. Great article, Ann! This is actually a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately. As a soon-to-be college grad, I’m obviously focused on keeping all of my social profiles professional but at the same time want to interact with my peers (all in our 20’s) and tweet about everyday life. Of course I always keep it “appropriate” but I find myself refraining from tweeting anything at all more often than just freely being personal. It definitely is difficult to find a balance (and know where that balance is) and I think this concept applies to young professionals entering the workplace as well.

  19. I believe there is an art to “some automation”. Carefully curated around a content calendar that compliments your own blog, brand, and helps others should free you or others up to spend more time engaging and interacting with your communities.
    When it comes to mixing personal and professional – I have been trained or conditioned that perception is reality and so I do struggle online as I am more professional than personal. It feels awkward to act too personal until I connect, engage, talk over the phone and finally, meet in real life.

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  23. Hi Ann: As always, you never disappoint your readers!

    As many other solo business owners, I am my brand. That said, I use my @ArtOfInbound account mostly for biz, but always with my personal touch!

    As with everything in life-moderation is key!

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  26. Josh says:

    Anna, Must say when i had a look at both of your profiles, I was bit confused saying Why there must be two accounts, then realized how you are balancing your personal and professional social life with these accounts and this post clarified all the doubts and provided a clear insight.

  27. Tyrone says:

    Great post. I’m facing a few of these issues
    as well..

  28. Ah! I have two accounts, and (theoretically, anyway) two dramatically different audiences. In my day job, my Dr. Jekyll shares information and interesting stuff with marketers about digital marketing. (I’m not consistent or energetic about this, I confess.)

    My Mr. Hyde is a theatre person, from production to scriptwriting to PR to debating next season’s line-up. (I’m not consistent or energetic here, either.) Mr. Hyde likes to discuss why King Leir has a happy ending and King Lear does not…I’d bore the socks off most marketers with this. And the theatre folk care little about email deliverability. I don’t have much crossover, so I don’t try.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

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  31. Nancy Flowers says:

    Great post Ann. I think that this post is on a very relevant topic. It’s very important that people know the correct way to act on social media sites. Sometimes on social media sites people go overboard and tell you their whole life story. I feel that social media should be used for connecting. But at the same time there are some things that you should keep to yourself. Finding that balance between too much information and not enough information while being yourself are key.

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  34. Ashish says:

    Nice Post.

  35. Matt Davison says:

    Very interesting post and liked your perseptive on automation and social media. I manage 4 of my own twitter accounts and really struggle to keep track, interact and form communities within them.

    Also I looked into IFTTT after reading this. Wow, what an amazin tool and great nugget of info. Thank you

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