The New York Times’ Randall Stross has a story this morning about ‘Sifting the Professional From the Personal‘ when it comes to social networks.

Attorneys and other professionals have gravitated towards LinkedIn because it is ‘professional.’

Among online networking sites, LinkedIn stands out as the specialized one — it’s for professional connections only. That distinction has given it staying power as Facebook’s predecessors have dropped away and as Facebook has grown to dwarf other sites. By keeping professional identity pristinely separate from the personal and the messy, LinkedIn, which is now publicly traded, has grown to more than 135 million members in 200 countries.

At the same time, Facebook users visit Facebook more than 30 times a month. Whether on a desktop or mobile devices, Facebook has arguably become part of the fabric of an awful lot of people’s everyday lives.

Stross’ article was on upstart companies pulling information from Facebook about a user’s education, current employer and job title, leaving out everything else. The idea is to present a professional social network without requiring professionals to complete a profile on LinkedIn, in addition to Facebook.

No matter what you think of the idea, Stross’ story raises the question in my mind of whether you want to keep your personal and professional lives separate when it comes to the net. Is it in your best business development interests?

Last week I shared on Twitter a blog post of mine on how law firms were missing the boat on how to use Twitter for building relationships. The Director of Marketing and Business Development at a large Northeast law firm replied on Twitter that she totally agreed.

The person happened to be with a LexBlog Client law firm and someone I was looking to get to know better. I asked via Twitter if she was going to be at that the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Annual Conference in Dallas as I’d welcome getting together. She said she’d be there and definitely wanted to meet.

I followed up requesting to connect with her on LinkedIn. She obliged, but let me know she doesn’t use LinkedIn much. She uses Facebook for social networking and does not separate her personal from professional life online.

I went over and connected with her on Facebook. Low and behold she had a who’s who of business professionals, law and otherwise, among her friends at Facebook. She was engaging folks on Facebook in a real and meaningful way.

This morning she reached out and asked me to connect on Foursquare, a location-based social networking website for mobile devices. I obliged.

Her networking on Facebook, to me, seemed to be running laps around what she could be doing on LinkedIn. If she divided her personal from professional life by keeping Facebook to the personal side, she’d have lost an opportunity to grow her network, build relationships, enhance her reputation, and serve (and ultimately bring in) quality clients.

On the flip side, if I said, “Nope, I keep my business networking to LinkedIn and my personal relationships on Facebook,” I’d have lost a golden opportunity to build a relationship with a client.

Sure you CAN separate your business from personal lives online, just as you may do so offline. The question is whether you want to.

  • Dan

    I virtually never disagree with you on this things, but I disagree with you on this one. I want to keep my personal and my business life separate and I am under the strong impression that just about everyone who does not work 16 hours a day wants to do so as well. Just as I have my own rule that I will never seek to get work from attending a house of worship or a daughter’s basketball game or dance event, so too I want areas online that are completely free from work. I want the separation. And if you are going to counter on how “young people” are different on this score, I will tell you that they aren’t and completely merging the personal and the business (whether online or in real life) is a prescription for burn-out.

  • Separating professional from personal is an industrial age mentality and we live in the information age. Transparency makes markets run more efficiently. People are transient and they want to know with whom they are doing business. My personal philosophy is if it ain’t worth doing in the light of day it ain’t worth doing. Just as many deals are struck on the golf course, many deals are struck on personal relationships that are able to be nurtured through continued contact on Facebook. If you can’t wait to leave work at 5 pm, maybe you should find a new career that you can be passionate about. In my opinion, the only real danger is annoying your friends with too much professional information.

  • Syd

    I think in this day and age when privacy is already cheap, one must keep the two separate and there is n harm in it. Keep in mind that chance are your information on the internet is probably going to stay on air forever. Also what you are as a person can be quite different to what you are in the professional life. Its like mixing the coffee and tea. anyone agree ?