Rules aren’t black and white when it comes to bal­anc­ing per­sonal ver­sus pro­fes­sional posts on so­cial me­dia.


The bal­anc­ing act be­tween per­sonal ver­sus pro­fes­sional posts on so­cial me­dia.

The dig­i­tal land­scape is ever ex­pand­ing. So­cial me­dia is no longer just a ca­sual way to ag­gre­gate per­sonal pho­tos—it’s an in­te­gral part of many in­dus­tries. And with the es­ti­mated num­ber of ac­tive users across all so­cial me­dia plat­forms at 2.03 bil­lion (Ad­week), many women are find­ing them­selves in a place where their strong so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing can be used as a tool to lever­age a new ca­reer op­por­tu­nity, or mon­e­tize their au­di­ence. While users ben­e­fit from hav­ing a pub­lic au­di­ence at their fin­ger­tips, the re­spon­si­bil­ity at­tached can have long-term con­se­quences if not han­dled thought­fully.

For those with high-pro­file po­si­tions such as mar­keters, me­dia per­son­al­i­ties, politi­cians, etcetera, be­ing your own brand am­bas­sador or one for your em­ployer can put lim­its on the type of con­tent pub­lish­able on Face­book, Twit­ter, and In­sta­gram ac­counts.

Un­der­stand­ing the func­tion­al­i­ties and au­di­ence be­hind each so­cial web­site and ap­pli­ca­tion is an im­por­tant step to­wards mak­ing smart choices when craft­ing a dig­i­tal per­sona. Do my fol­low­ers re­ally want to see a daily photo of my dog? How many times pic­turse of my off­spring in their car seat can they han­dle? Cu­rat­ing con­tent that’s not only per­son­ally sat­is­fy­ing, but also safe, flat­ter­ing, and work ap­pro­pri­ate means es­tab­lish­ing bound­aries, re­spect­ing them, and de­vel­op­ing a strat­egy.

“Ev­ery­one ul­ti­mately draws their own line of what’s con­sid­ered ac­cept­able for per­sonal brands,” says Daniel Fricker, an in­struc­tor at the Univer­sity of Toronto who teaches a course on so­cial me­dia strat­egy. “Some­times, com­pa­nies draw that line for you.”

“[The fo­cus] de­pends on how ad­vanced the or­ga­ni­za­tions are with their own so­cial strat­egy,” ex­plains Fricker, who is also a se­nior man­ager of dig­i­tal and so­cial me­dia for CBC, and sits on the board at Twist Out Can­cer.

When it comes to some­one’s own brand, Fricker thinks peo­ple are con­scious to some de­gree of the net­works they’re reach­ing and the pri­vacy lev­els of each plat­form—most peo­ple un­der­stand that Twit­ter is pub­lic while Face­book can pro­vide a more se­cured pro­file when set up prop­erly.

The key to post­ing well is to know your au­di­ence—who you’re con­nect­ing with and what they ex­pect from you. A per­sonal brand or a cor­po­ra­tion needs to rec­og­nize what its au­di­ence is look­ing for, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion their age, in­ter­ests, and life­style. A fash­ion-savvy au­di­ence will want to see posts from the Paris run­ways, while food­ies want to see what’s on your plate.

But, like most things in the so­cial realm, taste­ful­ness is open for de­bate. So­cial me­dia be­hav­iour can fall into the same murky pool as of­ficeap­pro­pri­ate dress codes. Each or­ga­ni­za­tion has its own set of guide­lines. A so­cial me­dia post is the new bra strap—to show or not to show?

“If they de­cide to ven­ture into this ter­ri­tory, [the rules] must be ex­plicit,” Fricker says of com­pa­nies try­ing their hand at im­ple­ment­ing so­cial me­dia poli­cies. “Guide­lines should be as ex­plicit as pos­si­ble the day an em­ployee starts,” he says. “Oth­er­wise, you end up with a se­ries of sub­jec­tive opin­ions.”

Some com­pa­nies opt to train em­ploy­ees, as they be­come built-in spokes­peo­ple for their brand. “It’s not just re­strict­ing the neg­a­tive, but em­pow­er­ing the pos­i­tive. There’s a way to en­able a so­cial work­force by em­pow­er­ing [em­ploy­ees] as brand ad­vo­cates; a col­lec­tion of mi­cro­phones for a busi­ness,” says Fricker.

Post­media re­porter Jenny Yuen has been run­ning her Twit­ter ac­count for five years—a work ac­count, which is her only one—since the com­pany started push­ing for more so­cial me­dia en­gage­ment. A gen­eral as­sign­ments re­porter, Yuen live-tweets from all kinds of lo­ca­tions and has man­aged to avoid scan­dal. She as­cribes this to com­mon sense.

Her posts to Twit­ter are ex­clu­sively work-re­lated, so re­stric­tions and con­stant re­gard for what’s be­ing posted go with­out say­ing, but she has a strong sense of so­cial me­dia pro­to­col.

“I wouldn’t swear on a work ac­count,” ex­plains Yuen, who saves more in­ti­mate and per­sonal posts for Face­book. “I talk about per­sonal things on there, but I’m also aware that peo­ple from work are see­ing it—my bosses are Face­book friends. There is a line I’m al­ways aware of.”

While there’s no de­fin­i­tive an­swer that states what’s right, wrong, or fair, each piece of con­tent has the po­ten­tial to be in­ter­preted with a high level of sub­jec­tiv­ity. “Ev­ery word, ev­ery hash­tag—what it means—you have to be aware,” stresses Yuen, stand­ing by her point that a lit­tle com­mon sense can go a long way.

If you’re un­sure of how to gauge con­tentious ma­te­rial or re­main con­cerned about pre­serv­ing a re­spectable on­line rep­u­ta­tion, yet still want to be ac­tive on so­cial me­dia, pri­va­tiz­ing your ac­counts is the best so­lu­tion. In ad­di­tion, care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion of who is al­lowed to ac­cess the con­tent is cru­cial.

Per­haps hi­lar­i­ous im­ages of your chil­dren or your dog do­ing the most adorable things are bet­ter left for text mes­sages or group chats. If well re­ceived there, then maybe they qual­ify for a #ThrowBackThursday. The ex­tra time and feed­back might just save your job or your dig­i­tal rep­u­ta­tion.

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