What’s the right balance of personal and professional in social media? – Janet Fouts

What’s the right balance of personal and professional in social media?

People who want to use social media to advance their professional reputation, attract business or build a brand often struggle with deciding where the line is between personal conversations and professional ones.

personal and professional in social mediaIf you’re using social media for your business, know this. People are more likely to do business with a friend than they are somebody they don’t know. So you’ve got to make friends to influence people. The advice to follow the 80/20 (talk 80% to support others and 20% self promotional) rule is great and all, but what does that other 80% consist of?

I’ve seen company bloggers who try to pick whatever is trending on Twitter and talk about it so they show up with the trending conversations. While as a strategy at least it’s paying attention, a technology company sharing and re-sharing the latest Lady Gaga news followed by wishing everyone a #HappyJonasDay! may not be reaching their intended market very well. In addition posts to the trending topics attract more spam than almost anything else on Twitter.

See, you can’t fake authentic interest. The goal here is to build relationships that are deeper than a surface “ohhh look! A butterfly!!!”. Look for people to talk to around your industry and learn about them. Ask questions. “How’s the BBQ in Columbus?”, “How do you deal with spam on your blog”? Give them REAL compliments about real things. “I love the new look on the blog, and the post about peanut butter made me laugh!” Make a plan to come back and talk to the same people a few times to make it a real relationship. Watch their blogs and social profiles for topics.

Some people do this brilliantly and their social presence is a natural extension of their gregarious and sharing nature. Take my friend Shelly Kramer for example. We see pics of her kids and hear stories about her day to day life and work. Through Shelly’s social media presence we get to know her as a person and respect her professional opinion as well. If you look closely you’ll see she rarely posts anything at all asking for business. She does post a lot of links to valuable information, often with her own take on the subject. She doesn’t auto-tweet it out either, so if you respond, 9 times out of 10 she’s still there to discuss it.

Another friend, Irene Koehler actively looks for ways to help people with their social media issues. She’s a role model for anybody who wants people to look to them for advice in their field. Ask Irene a social media question and she will find the answer. Irene also spends a lot of time sharing tips and tricks without asking for anything.

In both cases people want to work with them because they are familiar and they’ve demonstrated their expertise naturally.

Being real on social media makes that 80% target pretty easy to reach. All you have to do to make it more professional is share links to good information. When you find a great article or blog post find out where that person is on social metworks. If they’ve got a Twitter user name share it when you post about it. If not, use their full name when you post so it shows up in their alerts.

How do you keep it real? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 4 comments
Irene Koehler

Thanks so much for the mention, Janet, I’m honored. You, too, do a wonderful job of using social media to be, dare I say, “social”! Business is about relationships, not selling. People don’t want to be pitched all day. While it may *feel* that it is efficient to blast a pitch to thousands of people at once, no one is really listening. We’re more likely to listen to people who listen to us. Do listening and being helpful take more time than the impersonal blast? Yep, but the results make it worthwhile.

And, you’re right, we like to do business with people we feel we know. Being ourselves online, rather than an automated business pitching machine makes sense. It’s OK to reveal a sense of humor or the fact that you’re at your kid’s soccer game. Not only does it make us seem more real, it often leads to some really fun and unexpected conversations.


Hello Janet,
loved reading your insightful article. It confirms my view and own usage of social media communication. Which by the way is similar with the view of @ChrisBrogan on this subject. – http://bit.ly/kToiGN . Here is short quote of his blog on the subject.

” Communication is a Snowfall…
Conversations and relationships are based on several touches. In the traditional marketing and communication world, people would use each touch to ask for something, to issue a call to action. This isn’t how social networks work. They’re not there to do your selling. They are there to give you permission to reach someone who has opted into a relationship with you. A relationship, not a sales channel.
It’s a snowfall. Every individual flake doesn’t mean a lot, but the body of work can change everything. If someone judged me for every tweet that I sent out, I’d be very ineffective. I respond to people a lot (that’s not selling). I tweet music lyrics. I send absolutely silly humorous comments that have nothing to do with anything.
But those are currency. Those are permission to sell something. Those are part of the snowfall that makes the landscape of what I say effective overall.”

So to complement your posting I would like to suggest we look at our social media communication / usages as snow flakes faling. One flake in itself does’nt amount to a whole lot, but the blanket of the flakes do say, communicate and reasonate with your listeners .

Janet Fouts

Any time Irene, after all the time we’ve spent online if we weren’t being authentic people would have seen through the veneer by now! Nobody can keep up pretenses over that kind of time period consistently. Being real is way easier!

Janet Fouts

Well thanks. I think @ChrisBrogan is pretty smart too, and he’s also very good at keeping authentic across his social presences.


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