3 Social Media Guidelines for Keeping Your Private Parts Private

  by Chris Lister
  May 25th, 2010

Are your private parts private on your social media accounts?

Are your private parts private on your social media accounts?

There has been a lot of discussion as of late regarding Facebook and their new “Your Information is not as private as you might have thought it was” privacy policy. While I really don’t have anything new to add directly to this conversation that hasn’t already been said, it does lead to a discussion about the importance of filtering your social media presence for both your personal and professional personas.

By keeping the following simple guidelines in mind you can hopefully avoid those awkward “I can’t believe my Mom now knows I party like that” moments.

#1. If you don’t want others to know about it, don’t post it. Really, don’t do it.

Remember those crazy pictures of you inebriated with half naked women at your buddy’s bachelor party a few years ago? Or what about the twitter update that compared your boss’ daily hygiene habits to those of Jabba the Hutt? Or the Facebook update that calls out by name the pain in the butt client that makes your working life miserable and that you frequently day dream of them suffering an industrial sized paper cut and lemon juice work place accident?

Well you might not remember them all, but the Internet sure does. And if it was something you Tweeted, then there is an excellent chance the Library of Congress does too.

While these seemingly innocent posts seemed like a great idea at the time (and were probably created several adult beverages after beer thirty), there is a good chance that they could come back to haunt you. You might have thought that just the selected few in your social network would see these posts, or that it was so long ago that nobody would find them, but in these days of changing privacy policies and hyper indexing search engines, you can’t always be sure.

If you are hesitant to post something because it might be unsuitable for online consumption, then don’t do it. Listen to your instincts. It is better to be safe then embarrassed by something you haphazardly posted.

A good rule of thumb is if it isn’t something you would want your boss, parent, children or neighbor knowing about, then you shouldn’t post it online. Do you really want dear old grandma seeing you do body shots off that midget stripper?

I’m guessing not.

With the search engines pulling more and more information from the various social networks, and potential employers, dates, and clients “Googling” you before they hire, go out with or do business with you, it is even more important to think before you post personal or offensive information.

As hard as it can be to not want to share everything in these days of instant online social gratification, remember you still have the right to remain silent. Because anything you do, say, tweet, update, upload or dig online can and will be used against you.

#2. Know the audience for each of your social networks.

As the Offspring wisely said, “You’ve got to keep them separated.” Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Buzz…whatever your flavor, whatever your preference, it is imperative that you know your audience and post appropriate information for each of the groups.

For me, my personal Facebook account is just that. Personal. You won’t find me posting information on the newest update to Google’ algorithm or my new article on Yelp’s advertising program. No, this is the social platform I use exclusively for boring my friends to death with the minutia of my daily life, including how I hate Mondays, what I’m planning to eat for lunch, what I’ve got going on for the weekend, how much I love beer, my amazement that it is raining once again here in Portland and how my new son is the cutest child in the history of the world.

As Facebook is my exclusive “personal” network, I also feel free to make an occasional risqué remark or off colored joke, or post that viral video of some dude getting kicked repeatedly in the crotch while being tasered by a chimpanzee, or share personal pictures from my birthday or night on the town with my wife. All these personal items are meant for my friends to see and are exactly the type of information that you will never find me posting on…

My LinkedIn account, which is strictly used for professional connections. This is the platform I use to connect with past and present colleagues, where I share new search marketing information and articles, or connect with others in similar industries and groups. No personal information, no updates about my status, and no posts about the concert I was at last night. Just business. Which is unlike…

Twitter, which for me really is a controlled mix of both professional and personal. With this platform, I realize I have a varied audience, and because of this, will tweet a blend of both personal and business information.

Now I don’t want to force my professional followers to wade through tweet after tweet of personal minutia (like I do on Facebook); however I do try to add some personality to my tweets and try to strike a good balance between interesting and self absorbed daily expressions. Yet as this is a medium shared by professional and personal connections alike, I don’t mind having a little bit of an edge to what I tweet, but you also won’t find me saying anything that is offensive or unprofessional (which for me can be a struggle).

This is the system that personally works for best me; however most of you probably use your different online social personas for various professional and personal applications. Regardless of how you separate or categorize your networks, it is important that you always consider the audience you are broadcasting to before deciding whether or not to post new information, especially if it could be considered of questionable taste. This will ensure that you are providing the right people with the right information, while not offending or alienating others in your network.

#3. Don’t accept connections if you don’t want to allow someone into your personal space.

If you are going to use the different social media platforms for different purposes, it becomes extremely important that you keep the integrity of each network in place.

On occasion, I’ve received friend requests from clients or professional colleagues who have located me on Facebook. Before accepting any and all requests, it is important to remember that these are “friend” requests, not “random person I spoke to at that one party” requests or “that one Guy I did some SEO work for long ago” requests.

Just because somebody wants to be your friend on Facebook, doesn’t mean you have to accept their friendship. While it might seem rude or mean to turn down their friendly offer to be your new BFF, you need to ask yourself, “Is this person really my friend…or are they just a colleague or acquaintance?” This is especially important if you use Facebook as a true Social network.

Besides, this isn’t grade school, where your future social livelihood and ability to get into the lunchtime kickball game is riding on the decision of that bugger eating punk on whether or not he wants to be your friend. (And by the way 3rd grade, you totally missed out on my adolescent ball kicking awesomeness). And it certainly won’t define your opposite sex confidence for life if the cute girl in the front row with the really nice smile that always smells good checks the Yes or No box on the note you passed during class asking if she like you. (And yes, by the way, she did like me).

This is a virtual connection. This is someone asking to gain a look into your private realm. Would you let this person into your home if they suddenly dropped by? If not, then maybe it is better to decline their request.

If you really feel as if this shunned friend requester could take your snub personally, send them a note stating that you limit your online friends to just immediate friends and family, and that it is nothing personal against them. They should understand, and if not, are they really the type of person you want to add to your social network anyways?

Probably not.

So by keeping these three guidelines in mind when posting information to any of your social networks, you can avoid that moment of concern when you learn that Facebook has once again changed its privacy policy and that harmless online quiz you took detailing your past history of sexual encounters and questionable activities is now making the rounds at the office.

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4 Responses to “3 Social Media Guidelines for Keeping Your Private Parts Private”

  1. Andy @ FirstFound Says:

    Brilliant post. I play by the boss/gran rule. If I wouldn’t want my boss or my gran seeing it, it doesn’t go online.

  2. Juliette Says:

    Is there a nice way to tell a professional acquaintance who wants to friend me on Facebook that I’d rather be LinkedIn with them? I’m not sure they understand the distinction. I’m afraid it’ll always be that way, though, just as we’ll always be educating someone that using all caps is the equivalent of shouting. (Seriously. I got an all-caps e-mail this morning from someone whom I thought had better etiquette.)

  3. Chris Says:

    @Andy – The boss/gran rule sounds like a great way to ensure that you filter out any of those questionable posts that could come back to haunt you some day. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. Chris Says:

    @Juliette – Excellent question.

    As someone who “gets it” when it comes to Social Media, you may have to spend a little extra time explaining “it” to those who don’t. My recommendation is to politely clarify the difference between LinkedIn and Facebook for this professional contact, and that why you are flattered by request to be Facebook friends, you have a strict policy of keeping your professional acquaintances separate from your personal ones. Basically, it’s not you, it’s me.

    You might also want to explain the benefits of a LinkedIn connection and how that specific social platform is designed for professional acquaintances and colleagues. Who knows, they could really benefit from being on LinkedIn and have you to thank for it.

    If that doesn’t work, you could always respond with, “NO I DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND ON FACEBOOK!” Just kidding.

    As many people are still new to Social Media, you are going to find there are a big percentage of people who just don’t understand some of the common etiquette practices that seem obvious to those of us who use Social Media regularly.

    Thanks again for your comment.

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