Executives, we all know (and if you don’t, it’s time to learn!) the importance these days of a visible online profile. It’s been said enough times that it may just be the sound bite cliché of our era—if you don’t exist online, you don’t exist. The reality is there is more than enough strong evidence to support this statement. Cliché or not, when it comes to a job search, raising your visibility, and maintaining a professional image—you have to be online or new opportunities can’t find you because they won’t know where to look.

There has been so much discussion and media coverage as to what we should or should not share publicly online, that a certain social paranoia has set in regarding the split of professional life vs. private life, and is there even still a split at all? For professionals, and senior-level executives especially, the emphasis has been on maintaining an extremely polished and careful profile across any public-facing social networks (even private ones, because once something is online, it never really ever goes away). While it is certainly true that any professional should be conscious of all public communications and what those communications say about who they are or in what light those communications portray them, is it possible to be too polished?

Take this recent article in Forbes for thought: “Social Media and the Job Hunt: Squeaky-Clean Profiles Need Not Apply.” The article highlights a young intern at an unnamed New York City recruiting firm whose job is basically social media “gatekeeper.” Her job as an intern is to scour the profiles of potential candidates across their social networks to determine where they fit on the initial candidate list. How she ranks them may surprise you. Profiles with social and family sharing—wedding photos, baby pictures, even a beach vacation are high on the list, while those without any of this—limited sharing outside of work-focused content—don’t rank as highly. Why? Those profiles without any of the “social” emphasis in social media—a holding back, if you will—can appear as lacking in character or devoid of social skills to a potential recruiting professional. It is important to keep in mind that, yes, this firm in the article may not be recruiting primarily for senior-level positions, but it raises interesting questions, nevertheless.

Can your online profiles be too polished? Is it possible to remove the “you” from what it is that makes you you?

The answer is probably yes. So, are you now feeling completely confused about how to present yourself online? Well, you shouldn’t be. It’s really not that complicated if you think about it. The article suggests maintaining a “Public Private” image online, not unlike say how television hosts or most other public or media figures must maintain that balance of presenting details of their personal lives, but in a very public and professional way. This “Public Private” example seems to be a good model for most executives to follow when managing their online reputations.

While it’s a good idea to skip photos or comments from Saturday night’s wild party, if you’re a proud parent, it’s okay to share a photo or comment about your child’s graduation and how proud you are, or how much fun you had on that vacation to Tahiti and some of the photos you have to show from it (although any revealing bathing suit photos you should probably skip). Context is also highly important. While this type of more personal sharing might not be suited for LinkedIn (which is geared to specifically professional networking), this type of content is perfect for Facebook, even if you use Facebook also as a professional tool. A possible tweet might be what you learned from the speaker while you were being a proud Dad at your daughter’s college graduation.

Executives are real people with real lives and real opinions, and no one is going to expect you not to be just that. In fact, if you’re limiting what you present online too much, or if you’re filtering what you share so much that your character isn’t coming across, that can be a potential hindrance just as much as over-sharing. TMI (too much information) most certainly still applies, and of course what is considered TMI increases in a professional networking context. But, if you can maintain that friendly and professional balance of sharing the “Public Private,” you can showcase your skills, your strengths, and provide little (still appropriate!) glimpses into your life that will paint you as a real person with real interests—and that is who people want to work with, who they want leading their teams, who they want to network with, and who they want to hire.

For tips on what to share online, check out the profiles of public figures in the business world. BusinessWeek recently featured 50 CEOs on Twitter. Take a look and see what you can learn in terms of presenting your online self.

For more information about managing your online reputation, check out our partner, Vizibility.com, as mentioned in the Forbes article. BlueSteps members receive complimentary access to Vizibility Premier and can set up their own “Google Me” link. Learn more >>

For executives, maintaining a positive online image is crucial. So is networking with executive recruiters. While tools like LinkedIn help manage your public career profile, your confidential BlueSteps profile is only accessible to the world’s top executive recruiters. Use BlueSteps to be as strategic and explicit about your career goals as you need, without having to worry about colleagues or bosses seeing that you are considering new opportunities. Learn more >>

This article was written by Joe Chappell of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

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