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The Digital Intersection of Personal and Professional Brands

Recently, the topic I’ve been asked to speak on most is the intersection of professional and personal brand in social media spaces. I believe I’m uniquely equipped to discuss this topic as I straddle two generations: depending on what year is used to define the break, I’m either the youngest Gen Xer out there or the oldest Millennial in existence. And what a blessing to identify with both! 

My Gen X brethren were the last generation taught not to mix business with personal. This generation was told “don’t be friends with the people you work with,” “don’t share too much of your personal life,” and my very favorite, leave home at the door when you walk into the office.”

When it comes to social media, Gen Xers tend to share all work or all personal, but not often both. Some go so far as to have separate accounts for their personal connections and professional networks. However, in today’s world, our networks have blended. The person we connect with on Instagram because we share a passion for yoga might lead to that next professional opportunity. By trying to keep these aspects of ourselves separate, we’re likely missing out on valuable, meaningful connections.

Speaking from my Millennial perspective, many Millennials don’t even see a distinction between personal and professional brand. As the ‘YOLO’ generation, they question everything and want people to accept them exactly how they are. Millennials gravitate to those people, communities, and businesses who embrace the diversity and ‘live life for today’ ethos that defines them. Millennials have been known to overshare, over-post, and over-expose themselves on social channels.

So how do we, no matter our generational alignment, embrace our professional and personal brands, while not exposing every aspect of our life in the digital sphere? It takes thought, intention, and practice.

I’m going to be honest, up until about three years ago, I was one of those people who thought I could separate work and personal. By day I’m an administrator for executive education programming at a state university’s business school. In my free time, I am a competitive ballroom dancer, foodie, and global traveler. How in the world could these two sides of my brand ever align online? 

At first, I decided to keep my Facebook page as a personal space, only accepting friend requests from people who were somehow related to my personal brand. LinkedIn was my space for professional connections. But what happened when my professional connections wanted to connect on Facebook? Ignore them? I knew that couldn’t possibly be good for business. I scrapped the personal page and started a new one, only posting about business and higher education…no one really needed to know about that other stuff anyway. That lasted about a year. I found little value personally from my digital connections, and by the lack of meaningful interactions on my page, my connections weren’t seeing much value from me either.

It was only when I stopped trying to separate myself in digital spaces that I saw a boost in both my personal and professional brands. First, I put thought into what I was trying to accomplish with my digital channels. My first goal was to stay connected and cultivate professional and personal relationships. In many cases, there was an overlap—and that was perfectly acceptable! I didn’t have to leave “home at the door” when I entered a digital space. My second goal was to share about my dancing, travels, and food experiences with anyone who was interested.    

I considered the social channels that would best help me accomplish these goals and created profiles that would further define my purpose for being on that channel. (Think mini-mission statements for social channels.) 


LinkedIn
: A purely business/education-focused channel. This is the space I dedicate to my career and conversations that are valuable in that area of my life.

Profile:  “As an education and business professional with many years of experience in offering thoughtful and effective contributions across diverse industries, my goal is to create opportunities to support the growth and achievement of all individuals that I have the pleasure of working with.”

Instagram: My passion-driven platform. It is a public account; as I stated, I want to share and connect with anyone who's interested.

Profile:  “I dance. I travel. I eat. Passions are everything.”

Facebook: A space where the overlap happens. I share highlights about higher education, business, dance, travel, and food.

Profile: “Higher-ed enthusiast. Ballroom dancer. Foodie. Full of wanderlust and zeal for experiencing life.”

Now that I had put some thought into my social platforms, I was ready for the second step in my process, intention. When I have something to share, I take a step back and think about where it is most appropriate to post. There is intention behind every post I make. For example, I recently won Administrative Staff of the Year for my college. I posted this accolade on LinkedIn and Facebook, but not Instagram. It wouldn’t resonate with my followers on Instagram, many of whom I don’t know personally and who connected with me because we share an affinity for things outside of business.

Finally, practice. In reality, I don’t LOVE social media. I truly want to live in the moment, but I have consciously made a choice to represent myself in various ways with intention, and I must practice it.  Not daily, but regularly. Enough to stay in the conversation. Enough to learn about what’s important to others in my network. Enough to be engaged. 

Once I started implementing thought, intention, and practice into my social channels, I found my conversations both on and offline became richer and more interconnected. People who were part of my “business” network were interested in ballroom dancing, and we were able to have deeper conversations at a networking event; I might have even introduced a few to a dance studio so they could take lessons after a busy day at the office. I also quickly learned that I might be able to support people on my personal side, as many of them aspired to attain additional education at the university. Had I kept these worlds separate, I would never have had these moments of beautiful cross-pollination.  

My method isn’t perfect, but, as a busy professional with a variety of interests, focusing my social conversations through thought, intention, and regular practice has strongly shaped my personal and professional brands and benefited all my relationships, on and offline.

Nikkole Liesse is the Executive Director of UNLV Lee Business School Office of Online and Executive Education.