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As the traditional 9-to-5 workday collapses and we begin to share more of ourselves through social media sites, the line between our personal and professional lives is being drawn thinner every day. We are constantly trying to balance our personal and professional relationships on sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, raising the question of how personal our personal branding should be. Even President Barack Obama chimed in on the debate, warning the nation’s youth “to be careful about what you post on Facebook … in the YouTube age.”

For our first-ever Budding Heads PR post, we ask the question:

Should you censor your online personality for the sake of your professional life?

Chris:  Trying to separate your social online persona from your professional online image is not only impossible, but will result in a lack-luster personal branding effort.

chris promptI’ve wrestled with the term “personal branding” for a long time and am finally deciding to make a stance on how I feel about these two words: THEY’RE STUPID.

While I understand the value of creating a consistent “brand” in the traditional marketing sense of the word, applying this idea to oneself is hypocritical and inauthentic. To me, creating a “personal brand” means deciding who others want you to be and trying to portray that fictional persona to the world.

Often, for young professionals, this means hesitating to share on social networking sites. It means de-tagging pictures on Facebook and making sure your LinkedIn profile picture is a snapshot of you in job interview form.

But why? Why try to be someone you’re not? Aren’t you good enough being JUST YOU?

I am who I am, NOT who I say I am. (And, no, I’m not trying to be Eminem *profanity warning on link.) Granted that perception is reality, as a young professional entering the digital landscape, my words and actions will shape these perceptions. What I do defines who I am. Nothing I say can change that.

My point is that actions have always and will always speak louder than words. If you’re doing one thing and saying another, you’re not transparent, thus breaking one of the cardinal rules of Grunig’s Excellent Public Relations.

Ultimately, the falsified personal brands will be seen for what they really are. Rubish. But that’s to say that folks who are creating a false sense of themselves are even noticed. All too often, young pros fail to take advantage of the personal and professional networking opportunities in SM. If they do engage, they have their trigger finger on the delete & de-tag buttons, fearing that what they do in their personal lives will haunt them in their professional lives.

I say: Get Real.

To me, refraining from being yourself in the online world is like censoring your life. Doctoring your thoughts and actions online to fit into some type of SM normalcy is a bad move. This type of personal branding (READ: life censoring) will leave a young pro lost in a sea of SM celibates, appearing uninspired or unaware of the importance of online networking.

Engage intelligently, but engage authentically.

Amanda: Controlling one’s social media image is necessary to maintain personal integrity and the respect of both professional and personal colleagues.

amandaIt’s okay, Kanye, we all make mistakes.

Tales of public figures’ youthful mistakes have been scrutinized for centuries – think Washington and the cherry tree – but new technology will cement this generation’s mistakes online forever.

When we were kids, gossip was word-of-mouth hearsay, whereas today’s kids can prove who kissed whom at Sarah’s party – with pictures. Students interact with friends via social media, but they are also sending that information to the world when they click “upload.”

This idea applies to all of us – would you show your mom that pic of you bonging a beer?  Do you want a potential employer’s first impression of you to include a “sexy cat” costume? Do you think anyone WANTS to know that chili at lunch gave you heartburn?

Of course, there are countless examples of people getting into trouble because of social media  . We’ve all heard ‘em – and most of us realize posting pictures from Halloween that just happened to be the same day you were “sick” is a bad idea.

When it comes to making questionable decisions, I’m guilty as any college student. Do I have fun with my friends on weekends? Sure. But do I want my boss to see on Twitter that I’m “nursing an AWFUL hangover”? No, thanks. (You can bet I’ll be whining to someone, though.)

And what if someday you become more than just another person, but a public figure? If your not-so-proud moments are embedded in the Web, there’s a better chance than ever they will come back to haunt you. Michael Phelps found that out the hard way.

I’m not saying we should take our personalities completely out of social media, but we need to make sure we’d be comfortable letting anyone and everyone – in our professional and personal circles – into our lives. If you can maintain your integrity with that post or picture, go for it.

Last point I’ll make: Those annoying social media mavens – the ones who post every 5 seconds about where they are or what they’re eating – doesn’t it seem a little egotistical? Do we like to just hear ourselves type? Maybe I’m missing something, but is there anything wrong with a little self-censorship?

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