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Balancing The Personal And Professional On Facebook

The CIO of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center advises her peers to get over their fear of Facebook and other social networks, and learn to use them effectively. Participating in social networks can help you build your career, connect with peers, and share ideas, says Linda Y. Cureton. Her advice is good, but not always easy to follow -- particularly balancing the personal and professional.
The CIO of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center advises her peers to get over their fear of Facebook and other social networks, and learn to use them effectively. Participating in social networks can help you build your career, connect with peers, and share ideas, says Linda Y. Cureton. Her advice is good, but not always easy to follow -- particularly balancing the personal and professional.

Some have suggested that I seem to navigate the Facebook's social networking world effortlessly. It might appear that way, but the apparent ease and comfort is an intentional work in progress.

I have never been one for networking of any kind, so I wasn't really thrilled at the prospect of jumping into the world of social networking. However, as I aspired to the ranks of the federal government's Senior Executive Service, I realized that building coalitions and developing an extensive network of associates helps us collaborate and share best practices and provides for the flow of diverse ideas and diverse thinking.

Writing in Federal Computer Week, she addresses three reasons why government IT managers are often reluctant to participate in social networks:

One is the desire to keep work and personal life separate. But we already routinely mix the two, she notes: "Picture this: You're at a professional conference during a networking opportunity. Someone asks about your hobbies. Do you say, 'I'm sorry, but I keep my personal life and professional life separate,' and refuse to answer?"

As for security and worrying about reputation, she offers the same, simple solutoin to both: Don't put anything up on social networking that you don't want the world to see.

Everybody who adopts social networking has to grapple with these issues every day: What kind of personal content is appropriate on social networking accounts that business associates have access to?

This is especially true on Facebook, which started out as a way to connect with friends, but is increasingly used for business purposes. How much of your personal life are you comfortable sharing with colleagues and business associates? How much are you comfortable knowing about their live? Likewise, how much of your professional activity should you subject your friends and family to? Especially if you work in a specialized profession that outsiders are overwhelmed and bewildered by -- like IT?

The answer, for me, is that I share very little about my personal life. I'm a heavy-duty user of social media, especially Twitter, but I fill the stream with professional observations, links, jokes, and smalltalk. You might find out from Twitter that what I'm having for dinner tonight (probably leftover pizza), and what I thought of the last episode of Lost (awesome!). I put a ton of vacation photos on Flickr. But all of that stuff is pretty harmless.

Other people, however, are more prone to share. Twenty-somethings, in particular, grew up on MySpace and Xanga and are accustomed to posting their most intimate details and indiscretions on social networks. As they move into the workplace, they, and potential employers, have to deal with the consequences of their sharing.

How do balance work and personal life on social media?

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on the business uses of social networks. Download the report here (registration required).

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