how ‘social’ should social media be?

The question came across Twitter this weekend about social media identity, specifically mixing the personal with the professional. Should we keep them separate? How much should we put out there? Who should we let see it?

There are no manuals for such aspects of a 21st-century world, and the rules to a degree keep shifting. But it’s a sufficiently compelling topic that I at least wanted to start a discussion.

Fig. 1: The ever-popular Venn Diagram

Fig. 1: The ever-popular Venn Diagram

My thoughts are that, if you’re dedicated to social media, the personal and the professional necessarily overlap in some places — like a Venn diagram (above) — to show the real you. Your presence in blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 platforms is different aspects of who you are. Perhaps only as much you as you want to show, but my favorite social media people show real personality. Real dilemmas, real concerns, real victories (however small) = really interesting. I find fairly useless those who only retweet (RT) others’ posts or self-styled experts/gurus who mainly regurgitate links, articles and platitudes. If a person doesn’t have a life beyond scouring the Internet, imho, their advice doesn’t have any real-world value — just as I wouldn’t trust someone who only watches TV talk shows to give me relationship advice.

Facebook, being the most popular among people I know, remains a prickly pear for some. But you do know you can limit the content you show to the world and even your friends, right? This neat blog post from Jessica Krywosa tells you more. I recently had two people ask to have their photos removed from a Fans page. The main reason? Because they were, you know, on Facebook! That evil Facebook!

But the most thorny issue deals with friend requests. Even with limitations, your friends can still see a lot of your life, and that I’m Facebook friends with our college president means I will never feel safe using the status line Tim Nekritz shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. But I do get friend requests from students and, recently, even prospective students. What do you do when that happens?

Everyone would handle it differently. Since I champion social media, I would feel like a hypocrite to refuse an earnest requested friendship, so I friend students back. I even approved friend requests from two prospective students — who seem to be friending everyone at their future alma mater — after they saw me put a helpful post on a group forum. Again, if I value social media as a communication form with prospective students, how could I do otherwise?

I should note, however, that I don’t put out friend requests to current students first (with the exception of my intern, because I was asking her to help maintain a Fans page). The reason is that I’m still most comfortable if a student wants to start a social-media interaction with me, not vice versa.

I’ll leave it there for now, because I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “how ‘social’ should social media be?

  1. I don’t friend current students. I’m reluctant to accept friend requests from listeners who I’m not familiar with.

  2. insidetimshead

    FRED: Sometimes I forget you’re a celebrity. Not just being heard on the air but sending the radio station’s e-Newsletter, signed by you, to thousands of listeners. Though you must be doing something right if these people who don’t know you think of you as a friend!

  3. I think it’s impossible to keep professional and personal lives completely separated. What I’m finding more and more on Twitter and Facebook is the blurring and crossing over of the two. I’m more connected more to family and past friends than ever before, but also to professional colleagues and those I’ve only met virtually (like you, Tim) but with whom I have common interests, both professionally and avocationally (i.e., our similar love of music). In order for social media to truly be social, we have to be willing to create those connections that cross the traditional lines between personal and professional lives. Besides, who has a personal life these days?

  4. This is where Facebook gets really tricky for me, and makes me wish we could have two separate accounts. I’d really prefer to keep my personal stuff, personal, and have a separate account to use for all business-related stuff I do there. The overlap I have there gets very messy. I’m glad when we post stuff on our university Pages that we at least hide behind our university’s icon, so they don’t know who the admins are behind the scenes, but we’re not so fortunate in the groups.

    I also manage a group of about a dozen students in our Welcome Center, and they all have friended me in the last couple of years. It’s especially interesting when they call in sick to work, and I see on their status that they’re hung over from a crazy night out, or something to that effect.

    I like how on Twitter there seems to be a great deal of professionalism, scattered with the occasional personal posts to help us formulate real life personas to these people we’ve never met. I don’t mind blending a bit of my personal side there, as I think it gives some greater context to the larger picture of things I deal with on a professional level. However, more of my co-workers, and even more of my students, are showing up here too.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

  5. Ah ha! I just figured out how to create the perfect Venn Diagram existence for myself on Facebook yesteday. This great article in the NY Times [http://www.nytimes.com/external/readwriteweb/2009/01/30/30readwriteweb-how_to_friend_mom_dad_and_the.html?em] discusses using the Friend List feature to help block out certain friends from certain bits of information. I just created a list for all of my professional colleagues here at the university and beyond, and now they don’t see my status updates, photos I’m tagged in and personal website. That really helps me feel better that they’re getting some of my personal life, but not all the juicy details.

  6. Brad

    Your comment on waiting for students to contact you is insightful. I had this discussion with my sister (in regard to my nieces).

    It’s not just that they want to keep their lives private (although that’s part of it). They also don’t want creepy old people scribbling on their walls. I can understand that (I remember being a college student once : – ).

  7. I’m starting to get Facebook-wary. Up until now, I’ve accepted every request if I as much as slightly recognize the person’s name. But now I have 600 friends. That seems ridiculous. Then there was that whole Terms of Service scare. I don’t know… it’s a major time suck and ultimately, I have all of my friend’s email addresses–what do I need Facebook for?

  8. insidetimshead

    ANDREW: In the ’90s, the term ‘affinity groups’ was big, then disappeared. Not sure why, but that aptly describes us music lovers or social-media types and explains some of the self-selected interactions. The resulting personal/professional blurring is necessary to round ourselves out, really. And hey … good luck!

    RACHEL: You are, to some of us anyway, the veritable poster child for using social media in higher ed effectively. But we appreciate your honesty as well; that’s a part of who you are. So it’s hard to exclude those parts from your social imprint. I like that many of us let our guard down on Twitter. For me, it’s where the least co-workers are!

    NICOLE: Great link! Tagged photos were challenging … I had to untag some that seemed a bit too personal, especially since my students could see them. To say nothing of my president.

    BRAD: I likely would have been uncomfortable being Facebook friends with most of my professors. So I take requests from students as compliments.

    LAURA: I have accepted requests from people I don’t really know, for the above reasons. But then I also received two friend requests from members of the women’s vocal ensemble Kitka — I’d never met them, but found it really cool!

  9. Not sure about that celebrity thing…but, this has been a very interesting discussion. It’s a fine line, like it always is…

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