Social vs. professional graph: Are the days of separate online identities numbered?

About 6 months ago I posted something on my Facebook account that had nothing to do with work.   It was a rant about a sales guy trying to sell me something completely unnecessary for my motorcycle.  Two days later, a friend on Facebook and superior at work asked me about it at work – the implication being that I was ranting about the workplace – where we ironically extolled that the social graph (or identity/profile) was and should be separate from the professional graph.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been emphatic about a singular online identity – which obviously paves the way for Facebook Connect to be the way people log in anywhere online.  He’s quoted three times in The Facebook Effect saying: “You have one identity.”

And that…“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” Further challenging the current separation of the social and professional graphs by saying: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Well, we know how he feels about it.

In turn, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has maintained that the separation between social and professional graphs is vital to professionals and to LinkedIn.  At last fall’s Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco — in his “keg stand” interview — he told John Batelle:

“While many of us in college probably were at parties having a good time, doing things like keg stands, or being exposed to keg stands, I don’t know that many of us would look forward to having a prospective employer have access to picture of those events.”

Who’s right? I’m less confident in the separation between the two than I was just 24 hours ago.

At a recent Ragan social media conference I attended, Shel Holtz echoed Facebook’s stance in his own inimitable and convincing way.  Of course, I Tweeted at him about this while he was presenting.

If I’m answering Shel literally, I’d say “see the first paragraph of this post.”

But I had to test this just a liiiiittle bit more.  The attendees of this conference were a better cross section of U.S. professionals than the early-adopting, Banana Republic-wearing, all technology-loving crowds that populated the early social media conferences. Insurance. Federal and municipal governments. Universities. Healthcare organizations. And, even the country’s largest cemetary.

They were all in the house — represented by professionals from every generation in the workforce today.

These are people working for really big, very regulated, widely and deeply impactful organizations from never-go-away industries — all there trying to figure out where to place their social media bets and budgets.  Shel’s point may be the most thought provoking point made out of all the sessions.  Because none of us are over-staffed or walking around with extra dollars pouring out of our back pockets, picking one may be a choice we’re forced to make.

So I put the question to the attendee group to see what they thought about the separation or blurring of social and professional graphs.  That group was on Facebook.  I’ll post the comments as they come in.

I’m not a Dead Head, but as I sit here during business hours while at the dealer getting my car repaired working on a post that has benefits to both my professional and personal brand, it’s hard not to think that maybe Shel has spoken for many of us.

My car is ready.  Back to the work.

– Jose Mallabo

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  1. #1 by Reid Cox on February 17, 2011 - 5:21 pm

    My two cents on this is that seekers of information will cross over any perceived lines between social & professional, so it’s up to the providers of information to control who sees what. To think I can keep a professional persona separate from my personal is futile if I’m making it easy for someone to access both. I also think this is great, inevitable, and about time for those of us who advocate being who you are.

  2. #2 by Jose Mallabo on February 17, 2011 - 6:30 pm

    I was in a conversation with a very senior marketing executive who I have world of respect for today and she made the point if a major client engages you on a truly social network or on your personal email, what are you going to do, ignore it?

    And, as you know I took a hard line on separating the two graphs personally — but really have been rethinking it. It’s starting to feel like trying to store water in a card board box. What’s more, is I’m seriously rethinking the strategy I’m managing at work for my company. Right now, resources and time are limited so I have to pick the right levers to pull and manage and let the others go.

  3. #3 by Aaron Heinrich on February 17, 2011 - 9:16 pm

    I don’t think it’s an either or situation. It’s a matter of degrees of separation – some may prefer six others one. Either way, as the song says – “ya gotta keep ’em separated.” If you don’t draw the line, you give up all hope of privacy and eventually sanity. Without some opportunity to choose your level of interaction with communities (on or off-line), we all run the risk of either being the village boor/idiot (you know the guy who thinks he has to be “on” all of the time) or the social misfit (the ax murderer neighbors later categorize as “he kept to himself”).

  4. #4 by Jeff B on February 18, 2011 - 3:29 pm

    never forget the time I was at a party..and a bunch of us (with prescriptions) decided to partake in the medical substance of smoke…as we passed it around the circle…to my suprise standing in the circle was one of my employees…needless to say she got a raise the next week…give me 6 degrees of seperation!

  5. #5 by Aaron Heinrich on February 21, 2011 - 9:05 pm

    There are two interesting books out right now that deal with are connection to technology (Alone Together) and the impact of the Internet on our on-line personality (Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality). I’m no luddite, but I’ll take both (tech and the ‘net) in the minimum daily adult requirements.

  6. #6 by Jose Mallabo on March 24, 2011 - 12:32 pm

    The more I’m involved in Social Media the more I’m hearing about Facebook being used for commercial or professional uses like recruiting, business development and branding. Not just fun stuff but a lawyer I know runs all of thought leadership stuff on Facebook for lead generation.

  7. #7 by Steve F on September 1, 2011 - 6:28 pm

    I maintain separate identities are best, although there is certainly nothing wrong with having a strong social networking presence both personally and professionally. A few years ago, many execs failed to grasp the growing importance of FB, LI and the like, and were blindsided by it.

    Now, some have gone too far (in my opinion) the other way. Let’s keep the workplace out of the FB personal page, and more importantly, the reverse.

  8. #8 by Katie on September 8, 2011 - 4:25 am

    Aaron Heinrich :I don’t think it’s an either or situation. It’s a matter of degrees of separation – some may prefer six others one. Either way, as the song says – “ya gotta keep ‘em separated.” If you don’t draw the line, you give up all hope of privacy and eventually sanity. Without some opportunity to choose your level of interaction with communities (on or off-line), we all run the risk of either being the village boor/idiot (you know the guy who thinks he has to be “on” all of the time) or the social misfit (the ax murderer neighbors later categorize as “he kept to himself”).

    Very well put, and I think this is going to get worst.

  9. #9 by Hewie on September 14, 2011 - 9:02 am

    I’m all for degrees of separation. There are just some worlds that you don’t want colliding.I don’t think it’s necessarily altering your identity to conform as much as it is withholding certain amounts of it for specific situations/environments.

    I wonder if Zuckerberg will change his tune about people only having one identity when more people start switching over to Google’s social networking site that actually lets you create “circles” for the different people in your life. One circle for friends, one for work, one for family, etc.

  10. #10 by Jose Mallabo on September 14, 2011 - 9:38 am

    From what I’ve heard (haven’t road tested it yet) Circles may be that optimal area where Weiner and Zuckerberg can agree to disagree — and where we sequester certain work/personal relationships. Otherwise it’s a lot like Costanza’s worry about “independent George” colliding…

  11. #11 by ThomasTrumen on September 14, 2011 - 11:51 pm

    The idea of having one identity is ridiculous. If we did this we would loos character and individuality. If we did it like this and tried to please our bosses for example then we all lose that part of our identity that makes us unique as people.

    I dont know much about what google is doing with their social network. If they are going to have it set to were they have circles then its going to set them apart from facebook and it could end up pulling a lot of the audience from facebook over to google.

    Remember what happend to myspace? well i think the same thing could happen to facebook and google is a prime example of that happening

    Then again maybe facebook is already to big for anything else to matter. Its net worth is like what 50 billion, its kind of hard to compete with that.

  12. #12 by Greg on October 3, 2011 - 9:56 am

    I think we have all seen reports of people getting into trouble at their workplace due to what has been posted on their Facebook page. It has to be a matter of personal responsibility as to what we allow our business associates to learn about our private lives. What our friends may see as harmless fun may be deemed as inappropriate behaviour at our place of business. Especially if important clients are also privy to such information.

    The way forward surely has to be the Google circles concept. This gives us all the opportunity to put certain areas of our lives i.e. personal/professional into their relevant “circle”. I truly believe if Facebook are unable to grasp and integrate this concept then Google may well leave them in the shade when it comes to social networking.

  13. #13 by Taylor on October 3, 2011 - 3:49 pm

    The social media space, like everything else is going to be sliced into smaller market segments to cater to the needs of different group, and I personally am looking forward to it.

    For instance, I like the idea of facebook, but I hate using facebook in its present form. Lots of people love it — good on them. But I’m pretty confident that I’m not the only one looking for something different as social media evolves.

  14. #14 by Jose Mallabo on October 5, 2011 - 9:21 am

    I just now found this story talking about how LinkedIn Identity has grown as a log on choice for B2B sites. When I was there, it was a mere notion but clearly enterprises see the need of some separation between the professional and social graph particularly for corporate sites.

  15. #15 by Jake Jobs on December 22, 2011 - 11:34 pm

    As I mentioned earlier, I think there should be two seperate identity when it comes to online profiles.

    Your professional online presence = your real name
    Your personal online presence = a pen name

    That’s the simple solution when it comes to avoid snooping employers, heh.

    (Or just work for yourself)

  16. #16 by John Littner on April 5, 2012 - 11:21 pm

    It’s true, social media such as Facebook has really blurred the lines between social and professional. There was a time when you were able to keep those things separate. But now your employer (or prospective employer) can look this stuff up without your knowledge and sees things you don’t want them to see.

    And if you’re not careful, people can’t “post” pictures up of you without your knowledge and “tag” you in them. You can even be tagged in a photo even if you’re not on Facebook!

    Sites like facebook have really raised some issues regarding personal privacy. And unfortunately, we don’t always have a say on what gets posted up on Facebook regarding ourselves.

  17. #17 by Jose Mallabo on May 20, 2015 - 8:04 am

    I just revisited the idea of this post — 4 years after I wrote it. And I really do think Jeff Weiner and my old colleagues at LinkedIn proved to be right. I find even less use for Facebook now (and I quit Facebook in 2009) than I did 5 years ago. Now that they are serving up primarily sponsored content — why be on it at all for socially let alone professionally? I’d just as soon post content on Facebook about quantitative statistics in PR as I would post a picture of me at a Pink Floyd concert in 1989 on LinkedIn. Just not going to happen.

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