The newbie’s guide to putting yourself out there online

I was asked by a friend a few months ago, an old work colleague, about online profiles and whether there are “hard and fast” rules on mixing your profiles. I had to think about it a bit, but here’s a list of thoughts that might be helpful, especially for young people who are just leaving college and starting the world of work or folks who are moving up the ranks professionally and starting to wonder when to cut ties with their “old selves.”

1. Don’t mix business with pleasure.
I don’t care how many bloggers tell you that it’s perfectly fine to open up your social networking profiles to the masses and to aggregate your blog all around the high heavens. The general rule of thumb is, if you’re just starting out (and heck, even if you’re not), it’s probably best to keep a low profile. If you’re an entry level gal with big dreams, maybe you’ve read “The Devil Wears Prada” and think you’re going to write an awesome expose on how your corporate cubicle overload.

If you’re going to write a professional blog and you’re just starting out, I encourage folks to do everything they can not to tie it back to their “real life” persona, at least to start out.

You’ll find that the freedom to speak as yourself is an important idea. So is making sure that you’re being respectful of others. There is a balancing act in being able to speak freely, while also maintaining professional decorum. So being “unknown” isn’t really a chance to just character assassinate people willy nilly.

2. Profiles are like trading cards….
Social networking profiles are the soup de jour. We probably all have stories of an “awkward friending” or two in our day on Facebook or some other site. Who you attempt to bring into your network isn’t really a big deal, it’s more an issue of what they’re able to see. Is it really necessary for all of your friends to see every wall post? Or every photo? Facebook has security features that will let you group your ‘friends’ in different classes.

It also takes a bit of work to organize them all if you’ve got different layers of friends from different phases of life, but it can save the potential embarrassment of a bored coworker plastering drunken photos of you from your Facebook at the office, on their way out the door. (Or does that stuff only happen on TV?)

3. You won’t get rich by simply “being” online.

No matter how unique your mother says you are, you’re probably not going to become a Z-list celebrity because of your blog. You are not Gary Vaynerchuk or Penelope Trunk. These people have found success in the real world and have simply translated it to the web. No one poured water on them and turned them into internet celebrities. So don’t go out of your way to use your blog as a gateway to super-stardom. The people who end up internet famous are more often than not, people who screwed something up and had the misfortune of having it captured on YouTube. So call your agent and tell her that you’ve got a bit more work to do.

4. Meld your worlds with caution
Pigeonholing yourself can be an easy attraction. But you have to speak on what you know. If you’re an entry level PR hack, don’t create a blog purporting to know it all. You also can’t expect that all of your interests will be interesting once you’ve generated a following for your blog. If you have a personal blog, feel free to talk about whatever you want. But if you’re writing a cooking blog, don’t be upset if many of your followers stop reading the blog after you go on month-long tangents about how your girlfriend dumped you. Respect your audience, create a conversation with them and they’ll be your most fierce supporters.

Ultimately, the newbie seeking to establish themselves online need to know that it’s all about trial and error. The only way to learn the ropes is by doing it.

Good luck!