With the increased hype and focus on social media and social networking, many people are struggling with trying to keep their public/private lives, or their professional/personal lives separate. And for those people, I have some bad news – there can be only one You in social media!

Is Your Enemy
Search engines are making it easier and easier for amateur Private Investigators to find out a lot about you without you ever being aware.

These amateur PIs can range from HR personnel of a potential/current or a potential/current customer (see Chris Penttila’s column Build a Social Media Hiring Strategy), to a potential/current girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse (also see Don Butler’s column Social networking or social spying?). Your profiles on , , , , and many others are easily findable and cross-referencable with just a few short mouse clicks, and these combine to form your personal brand.

Now, you can mark your profiles private, or try using different names and pictures on each service, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having those accounts in the first place? The name says it all – Social Networking – hiding your identity is the antithesis of being social. Additionally, the likelihood of keeping the content on these partitioned accounts so separate and completely unidentifiable is unlikely and would take a lot of effort if it was possible at all.

Oh, and don’t forget the Pros
But its not just the amateurs, depending on who you are and what kind of activities you are involved in, you might also be concerned about agencies like the CIA looking at your social profile. Take a look at Don Resinger’s article CIA to start spying on social media? and Tom Burghardt’s entry on WikiLeaks entitled Mind Your Tweets: The CIA Social Networking Surveillance System.

Why are you hiding?
Ignoring the futility of trying to hide, you also need to ask yourself why is it that you feel you need to hide in the first place?

Most often the answer will be that you are publishing information about yourself that you only want to share with a small number of people and not the whole world. Publishing photos of yourself doing keg-stands at the party on Saturday night is probably not something you intended for or want seen by your boss on Monday morning. But what if you genuinely like doing keg-stands on weekends? Isn’t that your own and hence no of your employers/customers etc? The heart says yes, but the brain says probably not so much.

If you think your content is not appropriate for everyone to see, then it is probably not appropriate to be shared on any of these social networks, or on any other web real estate you might own. Stick to or SMS – although even those mediums have a habit of going awry (see next section).

Can you trust your friends?
As much as you might be diligent about keeping unwanted content out of your profiles, it can easily be undone by a friend who is an over zealous sharer.

For example, on Facebook, when a friend of yours posts a photo with you in it and tags it as such, all of your other friends will see that in their time-lines. So while you wanted to keep the pictures from the Halloween party out of the public limelight, so you only sent them out via email, your friend just undid your good work with one mouse click.

How many faces do you have?
On freedictionary.com, under the definition for the term two-faced, there are words like deliberate deceptiveness, deceitful, double agent, traitor and fraudulent – none of which are words anyone probably wants associated with themselves.

In fact very few people truly are or would even consider themselves to be two-faced, so why do they insist on trying to behave like that in their online life?

What YOU Need To Know
Social Networking can be very beneficial to your social and professional life, but there can be downsides to over sharing. If the content is not appropriate for absolutely everyone to see, then it should not be in your profile. Trying to segment your life and only share certain content with partitioned groups of people is fraught with danger and pitfalls. Decide what personal brand you are trying to convey and ensure all of the content you share on all of your profiles supports that brand.

Are you trying to juggle multiple online personalities and hoping they never collide? Are you suffering from a chronic case of Multiple Online-Personality Disorder? Please share your story in the comments.