Can I be Your Friend? The Risk of Being a Professional on a Public Social Network – Dan Marut, DMD

This is a guest blog entry from our Dan Marut, DMD, founder of a social networking site for dentists.

“Can I be your friend?” seems like a rather innocuous question. But, as a professional in the world of public social networking, what you answer may have lasting effects.

By now most of us have heard the buzz about public social networking sites like Facebook. Many have already joined and are participating on them, making “friends” and connecting with others on the network. Online social networks are powerful software tools that allow humans to take our need for connection and reach out far across time and space. The popularity of these tools has penetrated deep into the lives of people everywhere, both personally and professionally. While increased connection with humanity is a good thing, there are many real risks and complex issues associated with the mixing of personal and professional lives.

Facebook, the most popular public social network on the Web, has a myriad of tools that allow you to find and connect with others across the globe. You are usually guaranteed to find (or be found by) someone you know using the site. Are the people you know who use Facebook personal friends? Professional friends? Both? “Why does it matter?” you may ask.

As a professional with a personal life, what you do and how you behave reflects upon you and your business. In the offline world, our personal lives involve pursuing our passions, hobbies, religion, politics, family, friends, etc. You know the saying, “Never discuss politics or religion at the office. Save it for your personal life.” On a public social network the line between professional and personal is blurred. Your life can become an open book visible by many and, of course, everyone on your “friend” list. This is why the question, “Can I be your friend?” or sending and accepting friend invites is so important.

Here’s a true story I received from a dentist friend in Florida: He, like many others, has a Facebook account. He uses it to stay in touch with friends and family. One day, he received a “friend request” from a patient. The patient was not a friend outside of the office. My dentist friend thought about what he should do and decided to decline the request. The next week, he received a call from the patient asking to transfer his records to another office. Apparently, the patient was offended his request was not accepted. The intent of the doctor was not to offend, but to only use the public site for personal purposes.

The next week I received a message from another doc in California who was using Facebook not just for personal reasons, but also to set up a “fan page” for her office in order to market her services. It turns out a disgruntled patient posted some unsettling comments on the office “fan page” that were not seen until another patient contacted her about it. The doc immediately disabled the “fan page.”

Another disturbing trend is the ability for public social networks to use your photo and images for ads and third-party advertising campaigns. That’s right, your photo can appear in an ad campaign for some company you may never have heard of, without you even knowing it! These are just some of the real-world complexities and risks associated with using a public social network as a professional.

Even if you take precautions and keep a low profile, many times a “friend” of yours may post a picture of you and tag the picture with your name. (A tagged picture says who on the network is in the picture). Are there any photos of you out there you would not want your professional colleagues or patients to see? This is something to consider when entering and using a public social network. It may seem one solution would be to have two accounts on a public social network, one for personal use and one for professional use. However, according to Facebook, “maintaining multiple accounts is a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Use.”

Many associations and organizations we belong to as professionals use public social networks to create “groups” to encourage communication among members. While the intent is to enhance professional communication for the benefit of the membership and the association as a whole, the risk of mixing the personal with the professional is ever present.

Social networks, whether public or professional, are powerful tools. An understanding of how they can be used most effectively is paramount to maintaining a safe, low-risk online experience in all aspects of your life.

Dan Marut, DMD, seeing the need for a professional social network, founded, the professional social network for dentistry. Dr. Marut and his company are available to answer any questions about the social networking phenomenon and assist associations and organizations in establishing their own professional networks. He can be reached at or just find him on NewDocs. He’ll become your 1st “professional” friend!

Send your questions to Tim Lott, CPA, CVA at

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