Multiple personalities on Facebook

Here’s a story I wrote that published. Going through the process of interviewing people and pulling it all together into an informative and entertaining piece made me remember why I miss being a journalist some days.

Published: 4/7/2009

Facebook users show two faces to the world
By Ari B. Adler

Why some people create separate pages for their personal and professional lives

Call it a self-induced, modern-day schizophrenia, but people are starting to split their personalities between separate Facebook pages in the latest movement to live online without having your entire life there.

So, if you’re friends with Judy Stewart, you might be friends with Judy Stewart. On the other hand, you might not.

“It’s not that I have anything to hide on either site, but there are two different worlds I live in,” says Stewart, director of state government relations for the American Cancer Society in Lansing, Mich. “Pictures of me and a friend at the bar might not be appropriate for my professional contacts to see. Plus, the number of friends I was attaining was getting fairly high and I felt I wasn’t able to keep track of people as well.”

Stewart recently un-friended a number of people, sending them a courtesy note that read: “In an effort to better maintain relationships with my professional contacts, I have started a new Facebook page. So, I will soon ‘disappear’ from your friend list but I hope that you will accept the friend request for my new page. See you soon!”

She says a couple of people asked her why she was making the change, but for the most part people just seemed to accept it.

With Facebook’s recent redesign, it’s easier to create and maintain friend lists, but the privacy settings are still buried and neither intuitive nor user friendly. That’s why some users have decided to divide their lives in two.

“In my career, I have to be open to the public and I accept anyone at my professional site – it’s almost like a fan page,” says Rob South, a reporter/producer for WKAR radio in East Lansing, Mich. “On my personal site, I felt less comfortable about having people I don’t really know on there. Even if I’ve met them a time or two, if I’m not sure we’d recognize each other at the store, I took them off my personal site.”

South’s trip through Facebook schizophrenia almost drove him mad. When he created his professional site with his work e-mail address, he provided his personal e-mail address as an alternative. Facebook then disassociated that address from his personal site, so he couldn’t access it anymore.

“Friends were posting to the page when I couldn’t,” South says, noting that it took multiple e-mails to Facebook to explain the dilemma and get his first identity properly restored.

He hasn’t had separate personalities online for long, but so far, South says it’s working out well.

“I have a lot of high school friends and family members who want to say hi and sometimes my updates can be snarky and unprofessional. I feel a bit freer to post things on my personal site that I wouldn’t post on my work site,” he says.

For Kim Tassie, an assistant account executive at John Bailey & Associates, Public Relations in Troy, Mich., maintaining separate sites has allowed her more freedom as well.

“One is more for personal friends and family while the other is for business contacts and business leads,” says Tassie, who started on Facebook when it was only open to college networks. “I started my professional page about a year ago when social media started taking over and everyone was talking about Facebook. It is hard to keep up with two pages and sometimes I feel like I’m slacking on my professional one.”

Tassie says she’s considered reverting to one identity but likes being able to keep some things more private, including information on friends who have connected to her personal page.

South agrees it can be tricky maintaining two pages. Rob South and Rob A. South have clashed over time management mostly.

“I’m still working out how much attention I’m going to pay to each page,” South says. “So far, it’s confusing but we have two sides to being social. I may be someone’s friend on a professional level, but I don’t wear sweatshirts and tattered jeans with paint on them at work like I do at home.”

Stewart says she worries about being hypocritical because she likes seeing some personal things that her professional contacts post because it’s a good way to get to know somebody. However, that’s a double-edged sword, too.

“I’m more cautious on my professional page,” Stewart says. “If I’m posting work-related things, does that make it a public message? Will the media pick up on it? I think two pages is the smart thing to do and a couple of my coworkers have done the same thing.”

An estimated 200 million people use Facebook now and there’s no indication that the growth will slow down. At some point, though, the number of users may become harder to track due to people splitting their personalities.

“I’ve made friends on Facebook with people I didn’t even know before based on their status updates,” South says. “Still, while I don’t mind interacting with them professionally, do I want them to see a bare-butt shot of my kid walking down the beach?”

Ari B. Adler is a media relations professional with experience as a newspaper reporter and editor as well as a government and corporate spokesperson. He is the communications administrator for Delta Dental of Michigan and an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University. You can follow him on Twitter at @aribadler.

One comment on “Multiple personalities on Facebook

  1. I really like this story for a lot of reasons. If you remember the way I do, Facebook was started as an online community for college students. As such, my peers used it to show their crazy college lifestyles. Now professionals got on Facebook and all of a sudden, college students are taught NOT to show their crazy college lifestyles. I think it will take some years for people to figure out their own persona for Facebook — whether it will be used professionally or personally is a decision people will have to make.


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