Where Does Your Professional Stage End, and Your Personal Life Begin Online?

Whether you are a small business owner, manager, attorney, or anyone else with a public persona, it can be hard to draw a line between professional time and personal space. Nowhere is that more true than online. So how do you decide where your professional stage ends? Is it ever okay to be “off camera” while you are online?

A friend of mine tells a story about Disney World. He once took a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. During the tour he got to see all the stuff Disney keeps out of the public eye: Mickey Mouse with his head off, princesses out of costume, and walls left unadorned. He also reported seeing a big, wide, yellow line that ran across the floor, up the walls, and across the ceiling a few feet back from each entrance.

That line was the sight line.

It was the farthest point visitors to the park could see if the doors were open. It was backdrop to the characters’ entrances into the fantasy world of Disney. It was the point where the cast’s personal lives ended and the professional stage began. Behind that line, employees were safe to attend to personal business. But before they crossed the yellow line, they needed to be “on.”

As small business professionals, we need to be aware of where our sight lines are. Where can our clients find us when we’re not expecting it? What can they see that maybe they shouldn’t? And nowhere is this more true than online.

Web developers, bloggers, and content writers take pains to carefully craft a web presence that projects a certain professional character – your brand. It is designed to make potential customers think and feel certain things about your professionalism and style.

But what about when those clients don’t come through the front door? What about when they find you as a connection on LinkedIn? Or when a friend refers them to you, personally, on Facebook? What if they see something you posted on Twitter or Instagram? What brand will they see then?

That is not to say you can’t have a private life, or share it with your friends on social media. But it does mean you need to know where that yellow line is, and what is okay as part of your public persona.

For some, that means changing their Facebook settings to private and always directing referrals through the website or business page. For others, it may mean culling your Instagram posts and removing any unprofessional moments, like bachelor party photos or video game achievements. Still other professionals maintain separate Twitter accounts for personal and professional reasons, so that their political rants or personal tastes don’t drive away business.

Every business has sight lines. There will always be things that are part of your private life but not your professional identity. But knowing when and where those personal affairs can be found online will help you reduce the risk a potential client catches you with your pants down.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and web content for law firms and small businesses. If you need help creating an online professional identity, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.

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