Are Social and Professional Networking Mutually Exclusive?

Posted on February 10, 2009. Filed under: Networking, Social Media, The times they are a'changin', Web 2.0 |


This week’s Daily Record column is entitled “Are Social and Professional Networking Mutually Exclusive?”

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Are Social and Professional Networking Mutually Exclusive?

Last week I attended the LegalTech conference in New York City.

LegalTech New York is sponsored by Incisive Media and focuses on distributing information about technology and law practice management.

While at the event, I attended a number of seminars regarding Web 2.0 and its application and uses in legal practice-specifically in law firms. A prevailing theme that emerged from many panelists is that online social networking and online professional networking are two very different beasts.

In fact, one of the panelists carried two Blackberrys with him wherever he went —one for his professional network and the other for his social network. His expla- nation for his dual Blackberry methodology is that it helps him keep the two networks separate.

I wonder whether his attempts to keep the two separate is futile, at best, and pointless, at worst. And, even to the extent that online networking can be confined to the professional sphere, doing so is short sighted.

Networking can be loosely defined as “an extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support.”

The online arena is a perfect place to network and for that very reason online networking has become mainstream. Facebook now has more than million 36 million members, Linked In has 8 millions users and Twitter has more than 3 million and is increasing exponentially in popularity.

The number of online legal networks is increasing as well. Many new forums and networking sites devoted to the legal field have been launched in the last year,  including include Lawlink (, Martindale-Hubbell’s Connected (martin- and the American Bar Association’s legal network, Legally Minded (

While it is encouraging to see established legal organizations attempt to participate in the Web 2.0 world, such forums are not, in my opinion, nearly as useful as the mainstream networking sites.

Certainly useful information can be gleaned from the sites; how- ever, busy lawyers have only  a limited amount of time to devote to networking, and their time would be better spent at mainstream online networking sites.

Furthermore, attempting to limit online participation to networks devoted to the legal field is counterintuitive, as is attempting to separate so-called social networking from professional networking.

Social and professional networking necessarily overlap. A person’s interests are not limited to their profession unless, of course, the person is an unbelievably one dimensional and boring human being. People are more than their careers.

Separating one’s professional and social online identities and interactions is a mistake. It is the overlap between the two that makes a lawyer more likeable, more approachable and more human.

People would rather hire a lawyer who is person to whom they can relate —someone with whom they can connect — and understand. If you limit your social networking to a circle of people you already know, you miss out on the chance to interact with potential clients on a more personal level.

Successful networking, therefore, doesn’t occur in such a delin- eated fashion and lawyers who believe that they can or should control and separate their online networks in such a way are missing the point. In the process, they’re also missing out on opportunities to connect with others, including potential referrers and clients.

The social and professional arenas are not mutually exclusive. They can and should overlap since it is the overlap that makes all the difference.


10 Responses to “Are Social and Professional Networking Mutually Exclusive?”

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Great post. If we can talk business with a neighbor at our kids’ soccer game, we can mix our online networks. Although I found that while Facebook for me is more “social” and twitter and linkedin is more “professional”, I get more vists to the Downtown Womens Club website and my blog from Facebook than the other two.

I agree with you. I may follow someone on Twitter who only shares good professional information – but I feel much more connected with a person who adds a human touch every now and then. It is difficult for me to separate my personality from what I post, and seems artificial to do so (recognizing that there are limits of good taste!) Thanks for expressing this so well.

Great post – seems like the the line between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ is getting more and more vague. My personal tendency is to mix them: pepper some of the personal into professional and vice versa. that’s who I am but I think the beauty of social media is that each can define their own: I was present in a conversation today where once person did most of their ‘business’ on the Facebook rather than LinkedIn. Another person said they would really like to keep a very clear and distinct line between their social site and professional site. def a fascinating topic!

Great point. But I think there is more to this story. There is no firewall between your private and professional social graphs, but I don’t think you would actually would like to transparently link those two. There might be more than two, in fact like any particular hobbies, etc.
First, it might be difficult to let all your clients into your private space. If you are friends with some of them on the personal level, that’s great, but you might not be with all of them. On the other hand, you might be doing business with somebody you don’t particularly like.
The other reason is that in some networks, like Twitter, some part of the people follow you because they share your interests. The more focused your timeline is, the better for the followers.
The beauty of the social networking is that you choose. Myself, I’m splitting by channel (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Digg, etc.). It’s not entirely private vs. professional, it’s more like the subtle difference between friend and colleague and people whose opinion I value.
One of the mutations of the SM platforms I’m expecting to see is exactly this ability to have many channels, like multiple timelines for one Twitter user. Facebook already is going there with groups. This way we might finally enjoy having one big social graph with all sorts of relationships – as it is in real life.

Thanks for the post Niki. I see online networking as a much more efficient, far flung addition to the in person meet and greet networking. At a traditional trade event, cocktail party type setting with potential clients or referral sources we don’t just talk business, and at what are more “social” events we don’t just talk sports (or some other non business topic). Web marketing is the same way.

My experience with Twitter got much more fulfilling when I quit just talking business and let loose a bit. I think that potential targets of marketing want to get to know their attorney on a more personal level even when the expertise level is obvious.

I anticipate debating this within the firm I work for. I think the distinction is quite artificial. Let’s look at real life networking. I was at an event this morning. Sharing social and professional news was the norm. It is how we develop trust.
I can think of a number of contacts who have clear walls between social and professional discussion even in real life situations. Sadly I find it hard to warm to them. They feel aloof and guarded.
I think online is the same.
I also feel this discussion often suggests that people cannot act responsibly online. Perhaps that is a training issue.
I have to remember that as an employee that the way I conduct myself online reflects back on me in other spheres, as well as reflecting back on my employers.

What I love about the social networks is precisely the overlap. I love going to conferences and meeting people in person that I’ve met online. It makes the experience a lot richer.

The great thing about the online social networks is the bridging of distance. You can’t be together, but it’s the next best thing. Actually it’s even better than that, as you can come and go as you please on things like Facebook and Twitter.

The bottom line is your reputation is your reputation, whether online or in person. Some personalities happen to translate better in person, however. Emoticons can only go so far.

Thanks for all your comments and insight. You raise some great points. My favorites are the ones where you agree with me;)


I disagree with you on several points (sorry, this won’t be your favorite post;0 ).

First, when it comes to choosing a lawyer I would rather choose someone who’s professional to someone who’s son plays soccer with mine (if I had one;0 )I would prefer someone who presents me his or her credentials (on MH Connected, Linkedin etc) then someone who posts photos from recent trip to Mexico.
Second, I personally like to post things on Facebook that I don’t want my colleagues to see or know about me. I believe that many people have different work personality and life personality and those sometimes don’t mix.
Third, as a corporate employee, everything that I say in certain places, represents the company. I therefore have to think of the possible consequences of what I say in professional environments (twitter being one of them.) On facebook, the only one I can hurt is myself.
Also, I wonder what numbers you used for Facebook, Linkedin users: According to wikipedia Linkedin has more than 35M registered users and Facebook has 150M.

I do agree, however, that making social connections can and will help you get more work. The social networks just make it easier to make those connections – nothing new under the sun.

I agree with you that separating networks is futile. The idea behind Martindale Hubbell’s Connected is to qualify the references. If you are seeking a person who can tell you another attorney’s ability or affiliation, an attorney would be the most likely to offer qualify information. Sure it can be used as a marketing tool as well, but some attorney networking is intended to help you get the best results for a client you already have! You can see a demonstration of why it is different at

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