As digital and social media continue to blur the lines between an individual’s public and private lives, and we move forward in a world where the fusion of these two seems inevitable, it is crucial for all of us to understand the difference between what is private and what is personal, but public.

We certainly do not conduct ourselves in the same way at home on our own time as we would at the office or in a business meeting, so it should come as no surprise that we must distinguish between the two via social media as well. Opening a discussion on this topic will shed a little light on both sides of the matter.

Traditionally, “private” has been defined as something that’s intended for only a single person or immediate group of people. But, we as a society have twisted, skewed and transformed what private really means.

Just take one look at the current Presidential election or daily breaking news in the world of entertainment, and you’ll see the personal versus private debate rage on.

With the reveal of highly sensitive and supposedly ‘private’ emails, Twitter posts, direct instant messages via Facebook and Gmail, not to mention Instagram images and hashtags, reputations have been made and lost.

The Digital Etiquette Imperative

A quick tweet or Facebook post can reach far beyond its allotted 140 characters, creating the need for user discretion on the posting of sensitive topics.

Of course, PR professionals have long been trained to be mindful of the consequences of unintended recipients of critical information, and they know how to counsel clients not to engage in the worn out ‘off the record’ argument.

In sum: if you do not wish to see it published in the press, do not say it. That’s media training 101.

But the free-for-all atmosphere of the Internet and encouragement for professionals to blur their social media and professional pursuits creates an interesting dynamic if not dilemma moving into 2017 and beyond.

As TechCrunch asserts, if there’s concern that information will damage your reputation by reaching an unintended audience, use another platform to convey it.

Better yet, adopt a “digital etiquette.”

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Consider one of social media’s major draws: the instant gratification you feel when blasting off a post. Being able to share your thoughts quickly and easily with your network can be a beautiful thing as you are able to broadcast freely to the world.

According to Fox Business News, millennials – who will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025 — fall into this social media practice the most. The problem is that the routine updates we provide for our followers (wanted or not) can be a source of vulnerability, as much as a source of instant gratification.

There’s an age-old adage — hope for the best, expect the worst. It is certainly possible that no issues will surface from an article you publish or a post you share; however, there is always the unexpected, and chance favors the prepared.

While there are reputation management tools currently available to wipe clean former online photos, links and mentions, social media has made it much easier for audiences to uncover, share, and amplify the damage of a misstep. Not to mention, no matter if it has been wiped, deleted or hidden, a person only has to see something one time for a lasting impression to be made.

Because of this, behavior modification might be the most advisable route to pursue.

The Benefits of Responsible Sharing

On a daily basis, PR executives the world over get to experience the joy of seeing their clients in the news, after careful advance planning, strategy and scrutiny on their part. We also know the flip side all too well where someone (perhaps a client or colleague) says too much and suffers the consequences in print.

This experience could be why, as PR Moment states, those working in marketing, PR and advertising are more likely to let their online and IRL (aka ‘in real life’) lives merge, while also being more adept at maintaining a perspective that positions both aspects favorably. When you work within an industry where live sharing is encouraged and has become about as routine as your morning coffee, overlap is bound to occur.

However, the benefits of responsibly sharing your personal life extend beyond the communications industry. As Harvard Business Review notes, 60% of hiring managers utilize social media and professional industry references to advance-screen when hiring.

In this and other cases, the sharing of ideas, images, contacts, networking opportunities and accomplishments can burnish rather than tarnish a reputation.

If you are proud of something happening in your professional life, choosing to share the accomplishment with your personal followers speaks to the quality of your work. It also adds value from a brand extension perspective that employees are taking their respective work seriously enough to extend pride in practice and demonstrate leadership.

I have seen these benefits in action as Gotham PR’s founder, where we’ve spent the past 12 years fostering a network with interns to junior and SAE team members. This has not only provided a perpetual referral system to help each other reach new opportunities and contacts, it has also helped me realize that employees want a coach not a boss and to learn at a very advanced level at a young age

These are lessons that factor into a professional mentoring book I’m writing on this topic and articles I’ve published such as The Importance of a PR Internship (Plus: How to Cultivate a Mentor) and How to Fix the Misrepresentation of PR Pros in the Media.

As we move into the new year, launching new campaigns and cultivating new talent on both the agency and client-side, let’s be mindful as an industry to practice what we preach.

Social media can be a tremendous asset to leverage for global awareness. It can also propel business forward leaps and bounds. However, it must be done right.

Moving forward, we must navigate the waters of personal and private matters via social media with a more delicate hand. Discretion and attention must be paid to where and when we share information with our networks.

Think twice about the content you project into cyberspace, curate and define which items are appropriate for your personal versus private life, and lastly, stay mindful of your audience always.

Get more tips that will help you build your personal and company brands responsibly.  Download Cision’s white paper Brand Stewards Unite: Best Practices for Showcasing & Protecting Your Brand

Author Courtney Lukitsch is Founder and Principal at Gotham PR in New York and London. This article continues a thought leading series based on Agency and Client-side workplace issues, and is the basis of a forthcoming coaching and mentoring book to be published in 2017.

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