How to manage the blurring of personal & professional brand on social media

When I spoke at the Social Media Risk Reputation forum the most frequently asked question was how to manage the blurring of professional and personal brand.

Specifically, delegates wanted to know if they should ‘allow’ C-suites or internal experts to engage on platforms and if so, whether to do so from personal or corporate accounts.

Although there are complexities in social media (like establishing who owns your social media accounts) as with most business risks, they are manageable.

However we can’t continue to apply spokesperson ‘rules’ that belong in a pre-technological age.

The personal-professional 

2.55 billion people use social media for multiple reasons. People are checking social profiles during work and work emails late at night on a combination of devices. Personal and professional have blurred.

Because social media is about expression, managing the impact is not a simple case of what a business decides it will or won’t ‘allow’.

For example US courts are considering whether a ‘like’ is a form of speech and therefore, if firing someone for liking content can violate a free speech right.

Although the law differs in Australia Social Media and the Law author Patrick George says “social media blurs the boundaries of what can be considered conduct at work and conduct ‘after hours’ and frequently raises the question of whether conduct engaged in on social media is ‘in connection with’ an employee’s employment.

The reality is that being mobile and interconnected through global networks has significantly changed people’s behaviour, their expectations of where and how they hear from businesses and how we are found and perceived as professionals.

Social blurs the distinction between personal and professional.

There are business benefits 

There are significant business benefits to being online and engaged –

  1. Digitally mature businesses (social media is a part of this) are outperforming their peers by around 25%. (MIT Sloane & Capgemini, McKinseyForrester)
  2. Social media can increase productivity by 20 – 25%. (McKinsey) or even 30% (Microsoft)
  3. Social CEOs are considered are more trusted and considered innovative. (Weber ShandwickIBMBrandfog).

But leveraging this potential means a business has to be out there. Those connected businesses that are most effective build online communities based on personal relationships.

People want to connect with other people whether that’s on the other side of a meeting table, telephone or tweet. Impersonal corporate messaging doesn’t cut it anymore. 

Why business needs a personal front 

People trust friends and are influenced by their recommendations whether these are virtual or real life connections.  That means the billions of conversations going on in social media networks matter. Having a real person with an authentic presence working for you is good for business.

At the same time a business must ensure that the time and effort put into developing a social media network delivers ongoing returns. Amongst other things this means that digital assets stay with the business when a key person leaves.

Why you need a personal-professional brand 

You also need to think about your career over the longer term.

Let’s face it, you’re unlikely to work for the same employer all your life. Just as a business needs to maintain the brand equity it builds through networks, so too do you. The influence you develop online like any skill should be transferrable.

You need to do this with your employer foremost in mind. You are being paid to deliver a service for them. Your online time must deliver returns to the business.

So how do you strike the right balance between being and building ‘you’ on behalf of the business?

There’s no ‘one’ way

There’s no single or right way to manage dual branding but you can consider:

  1. Allowing employees to talk work on personal accounts
  2. Building two accounts
  3. Going it alone

1. Allow employees to talk work on personal accounts 

With a strong social media policy in place you can encourage employees to talk directly about your organisation or share content that broadly relates to it from a personal account.

This makes a lot of organisations nervous, but there are plenty of examples of companies that are doing it well.

Deloitte for example has a list of its people using Twitter.


These people are out there talking about research or issues relating to the industry but are very human and also talk back. This makes them accessible.

This approach creates a massive amplification effect. Instead of a social media team (if you’re lucky) creating a limited online presence the whole workforce becomes a social force.

This approach demonstrates high employer-employee trust but as many commentators have observed, it’s little different from letting someone loose on the phone. Yes the reach and speed of communication is greater, but employees are using similar skills to manage issues. The difference is there’s a person to connect to, rather than an impersonal brand.

For this to work, employees need to show a bit of personality and share others’ as well as their own content. Firebrand’s Carolyn Hyams suggests an 80/20 rule sharing others’ content most of the time and your own the rest.

Something to consider with this approach is who owns the social media account when an employee moves on? This should be carefully set out in the employment contract. Usually terms of use mean the account holder ‘owns’ the connections.

2. Build two accounts

One of the easiest ways to manage dual branding is to run two accounts – one in a person’s name and one belonging to the business.

In the above example, people are able to talk work from personal accounts but essentially, own the connections.

However, Deloitte also maintains a host of corporate social media accounts for various services, these are business assets which stay with the company regardless of who come and goes.

List of services

Should employers use this model? I say yes.

A simple scheduling tool like Buffer allows you to post to different accounts with one click. You can choose to share on either or both, depending on what you are posting.

This allows people to build personal and work brands simultaneously and with little more effort. It also creates a halo effect.

This approach makes it easier when you move on because you leave the business in great shape and take a legacy with you.

3. Go it alone 

If your work just won’t go social then go it alone.

There may be legitimate reasons some companies won’t go social. If there’s a genuine cultural misalignment, it’s understandable, but you may be surprised at the number of conservative businesses that have used social successfully, including in highly regulated or traditional industries.

Sometimes playing the culture card is just a way deflect attention from lazy thinking. Challenging an existing mindset is difficult but you have to think beyond your current role.

Using scheduling tools like HootSuiteBuffer or Social Bro you can set up your account to schedule posts while you are at work and respond to them after hours. That creates constant online presence without cutting into work time.

It’s good to explain scheduling to your boss if you’re doing this because you don’t want them to assume that a tweet you sent at 10 am was actually sent at 10am.

Executive education around social media management is critical to ensure there’s a clear understanding that activity on social does not imply inactivity at the desk.

If there’s no social media policy, then get it onto the executive agenda right away, all businesses should have social media policies and social media must be managed through the employment lifecycle.

Of course it goes without saying that you use good judgement and if there’s a social media policy in place, make sure you’re operating within it.

Be the shining example of how it can work.

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