How to Separate Your Personal Life from Your Work Life Online

Stacey FergusonSure, you’re into mixed martial arts and music by Lady Gaga – but you’d rather if your boss didn’t know about it! Or maybe you’re miserable on the job and need an outlet to vent, but are paralyzed by the thought of anyone at your workplace finding out. Wanting to keep your personal life, well, personal is a perfectly reasonable aspiration; but is possible in our uber-connected world?

The answer is yes and no. If you engage in social platforms the way most of us do, it will be extremely hard to create a foolproof means to keep your personal like private. With the conveniences and awesome content that the Internet provides comes oodles and oodles of blurred lines. But, fear not! There are some strategies that you can take:

Create an Alias. This one worked for me during my days of legal practice. I wanted to be able to blog freely about my challenges juggling my career and raising a family without fear of my boss finding out. And so, in 2006, ‘Justice Fergie’ was conceived. Having a pen name is not a new concept at all, and might be one that you consider if blogging or micro-blogging is something that you are interested in doing.

  • Some social media platforms prohibit the use of aliases. Facebook, for example, has in its Terms of Service that you must create a profile using your real name, otherwise you risk getting your account disabled. Make sure to consult the policies of the platform you are using before drumming up a fake name.
  • Consider that your alias may become widely known…and that you may be ‘stuck’ with it for life. Again, I’m speaking from personal experience here! Once I felt comfortable enough to ‘reveal’ my true identity, my real name was of no consequence, because I had built up a following and a community who knew me only as ‘Justice Fergie.’ To this day, some people don’t believe that my name is really Stacey.
  • Be consistent using your alias across the board. On all online accounts, as the ‘Reply-To’ name in your email, as usernames on various websites: you never know when your two worlds will collide and you want to be as diligent as possible maintaining your persona.

Use Your Privacy Controls Wisely.

  • Everything – and I mean everything – these days is synced!  Your phone can be synced to your laptop which can be synced to your tablet which can be synced to your gaming console….you get the picture.  It is in your best interest to make yourself familiar with your privacy controls on all of your devices and websites or apps and restrict some of the syncing features that may be convenient is some instances, but can also serve to share your personal activities with co-workers who may be able to access you via one or more of these channels.
  • Disable the cookies on your devices. Again, it is so convenient not to have to log in to LinkedIn each time your visit the site, but consider that these sites all ‘talk’ to each other and can potentially share your online activities with your ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ on various platforms. Once, for example, I was listening to music on Spotify and was shocked to see that it shared exactly which song I was listening to to everyone following my Facebook feed. Or, consider that when you visit The Washington Post’s website, for example, it shows you which of your Facebook friends may have read or ‘liked’ the article that you are reading. In short: log out of everything, each time, if you are truly concerned about someone knowing what your personal interests are.
  • Lock your accounts where you can. On Twitter and Instagram, for example, you can make your account ‘private’ where only those you approve are able to follow your posts. This is a nice option if you are wanting an outlet, but a controlled one. Caution: both Twitter and Instagram can still feed your posts to other platforms (namely Facebook), so make sure to disable the syncing features, even in your ‘private’ accounts (see bullet 1, above).
  • Take advantage of the privacy settings in platforms like Facebook, which allows you to segment your ‘friends’ into groups where you get to decide which group sees which posts of yours. You could setup a ‘Family’ group and a ‘Co-Worker’ group and so on. If you take 20 minutes to set them all up now, you’ll be so glad you did later!

Edit What You Share.

  • This one may seem obvious, but I see people messing this one up all the time.  Don’t post something when you’re upset or inebriated or on a whim – your social posts will live on in some way, shape or form. Whether it’s a picture or a political comment or a raunchy joke, decide whether you would be embarrassed if your boss or co-worker laid eyes on it. Before you post something, think twice! This is good advice for anyone, actually.

Still, despite all the digital precautions you can take, when trying to separate your personal life from your professional one, the best precautions are the old-fashioned ones: not oversharing about your weekend to the office gossip; not using your social media profiles on your office computer; not emailing co-workers from your personal email address – you get the picture.

The key thing to remember is that being connected 24/7 means that the likelihood of being able to keep your ‘lives’ totally separate is small. But with a little creativity and a lot of diligence, you can definitely keep some of your personal life under wraps.

Stacey Ferguson (known online as Justice Fergie) is a digital brand strategist, content marketer, veteran blogger, event producer, social media personality, public speaker, freelance writer, technology attorney, and Chief Curator of the Be Blogalicious community and conferences celebrating diversity among women in social media.  Find her at http://JusticeFergie.com