Have you been too generous in accepting new connections on LinkedIn? Have you mixed your real friends with business acquaintances on Facebook? Do you follow many business people on Twitter who you no longer wish to be associated with in your career?
If the answer to all, or some, of the above is yes, then it’s time to clean up your ‘professional online existence’.
Why? Well, because there will be situations when you realize you’ve connected with a spammer. Some of your ‘friends’ and connections may treat their LinkedIn email accounts, or Facebook chat services, as a promotional channels to bombard you with business offers or unwanted information.
Another major concern is the possibility of business-related disagreements or conflicts you will face in your off-line life with some people who having a direct ‘harassment’ and ‘stalking’ channel with you!
These are the main reasons why the world’s biggest social network for business professionals, LinkedIn, introduced the long-requested ‘Member Blocking Function’.
It’s a simple tool to block spammers who clutter you LinkedIn inbox with annoying requests and messages.
In some ways, it is like erasing your previous business relationship with a person, because any ‘endorsements and recommendations’ from that member will be removed from your profile; and neither of you will ever be recommended to one another again as connections.
On the LinkedIn blog, a post says that “there are a variety of other tools for users interested in better protecting their privacy, including tools to disconnect from existing connections, tools to control your activity broadcasts, plus profile and photo visibility settings.”
Of course, the need to block someone does not stop at LinkedIn. You may also do it on Facebook, but there are a whole set of options including ‘Limited View’ of your profile and posts, blocking, reporting and unfriending.
Apart from people you’ve hastily added as friends and wish to block, there are also various businesses which create a Facebook account.
Why would you accept a friend request from a user called ‘Something Store’, ‘Something Restaurant’ or any other name of a company? You can’t complain afterwards about being spammed with messages, tagged posts on your timeline and more. At least in this case, ‘Unfriending’ or ‘Blocking’ is not followed by personal issues.
Then, there’s the matter of blocking an irritating or abusive user from your business Fan Page, to maintain your ‘happy community of fans’ and basically protect your business! This person is not your friend on Facebook, but is a ‘Liker’ of your fan page and you may need to dispose of him or her.
There are clear instructions on Facebook on all these options, and they seem effective.
On Twitter, tweets including your ‘twitter name’ or retweets of your tweets with added comments may become a source of embarrassment. That’s why Twitter provides various options including ‘block user’, ‘report user’ and ‘turn off retweets’.
Another social network that’s not mentioned much in a business context is Google+, but it also offers the ability to block someone in your Circles and Hangouts.
Even on Instagram, which is also now being used as a business channel, you can ‘unfollow’ or ‘block’. Again, the user won’t know when you’ve done it but will find out if he/she searches for your content in the Instagram newsfeed and can’t find it.
That’s why an argument is emerging regarding whether you should ‘Unfriend’ or ‘Block’. These two options may seem similar, but they’re not. When you block people, they will not see it happening. But if they later on search for you or your posts, then they’ll figure out they’ve been blocked. So, basically, you’re postponing the ‘angry reaction’. However, when you ‘Block’ you can discretely change your mind and ‘Unblock’ anytime. But, when you ‘Unfriend’ ‘Disconnect’, you can’t connect again with that user without a new Friend or Connection Request.
Something else you may wish to consider is the old saying, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”. If you need to keep an eye on your supposed enemy, it doesn’t get closer than constant monitoring on social media channels! So, that could be a reason to keep a foe as a ‘friend’ or a ‘connection’.
Clearly, social media opens us up to the possibilities of too much communication and too wide a circle of contacts, both as professionals or businesses.
In our part of the world, the concept of separating your professional and personal lives is not common. It may even be considered rude not to accept a business acquaintance as a friend on Facebook, or not to accept a connection request on LinkedIn from someone you just met.
The result of this culture is that you’ll end up having to terminate or limit your online relationship with some people at some point. Those people will figure out what you’ve done and you will have to accept whatever ‘real world’ reaction you will get.
On social networks, mixing business with pleasure will, undoubtedly, end up in some form of ‘displeasure’. It’s really just another one of the headaches of our digital existence in the 21st century.
Zeid Nasser is a tech and media writer and commentator since the 1990s.
He is also the founder of various local and regional media projects.