To Friend or not to Friend…

This week I attended a professional development conference and one of the breakout sessions was on social media. I popped into the session and found a panel of five professionals with extensive experience in all things technology including social media. Overall the session was good, they did some baseline assessments of the group to gauge our social media prowess and then got into some of the basics. The talked about definitions, privacy issues, and the like, but one thing they touched on got me thinking. They suggested that higher education professionals should maintain two lives on social media, their “personal” and “professional” profiles.

There are several schools of thought as to holding multiple accounts, but let’s clear a couple things up first. With over 1 billion active users, Facebook sits at the top of the pile when we discuss social media networks. And they explicitly prohibit any individual from holding multiple accounts. LinkedIn also prohibits multiple individual accounts. Twitter enthusiastically says “Yes!” to multiple accounts and several other sites also approve, although not always explicitly.

Whether or not it’s allowed, I pose the question is it necessary? As the line between our personal and professional lives continues to blur (how many of you check your work email in the evenings or on the weekends?), do we really need to create a separate online existence where we post “appropriate” or “professional” items? In this case, I enthusiastically say “No!”. I’m a strong proponent of managing your online presence in through just one identity; albeit in multiple locations.

Here’s how I make it work:

  • Never friend, follow or connect with students without an invitation. I never seek out students on social media. I ALWAYS wait for them to initiate the connection. This is extremely important, especially for students that work for you or who are in your classes. You don’t want to create a situation where a student feels that ignoring or declining your invitation will come with any repercussions. I’ve developed some incredible relationships with students I am connected with through social media, but those connections were always initiated by the students themselves.
  • Remember that everything you post adds to your digital identity. No matter if you are friends with your students or not, whatever you post is out there for people to find. If you don’t want people to see your dirty laundry, don’t post it! We tell our students that, and should follow our own advice.
  • Having your social media sites connected isn’t always a good idea. It’s fair to say, from experience, that most of your Facebook friends probably don’t want to be involved with the #satech chat you’re participating in, or follow your conference sessions at #NASPA13. There are definitely times when you want to post your in multiple places, in those cases you should use a third-party client like hootsuite or TweetDeck.
  • Measure twice, post once. This old home improvement adage translates well to the social media world. Not only are you making sure this is something you really want to post (measuring appropriateness), you’re also taking time to make sure your information is correct and everything is spelled right (measuring correctness).  If you find yourself in a situation where your judgment might be compromised (angry, tired, etc), consider holding off on the post, or checking it three or four or five or more times.

These isn’t meant to be the end all be all list, but this is how I make it work. Build a strong digital identity for yourself, not one for your “professional” self and one for your “personal” self.

Matt Brinton is the Chair of the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community, and the Assistant Director of Student Activities at the Metropolitan State University of Denver in Denver, Colorado.

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