When I put my house on the market about two years ago, my realtor and I became Facebook “friends.” My house didn’t sell (not his fault), and we are still in touch on Facebook. We see updates on each other’s kids and the random thoughts each of us choose to post through the week.

 

I’m also connected to my mother, my book club and the parents of my daughters’ friends. My kids’ teachers. Friends from high school and college. Pretty common, right?

 

I’m also “friends” with some of my clients, vendors and business partners. This caused me no real concern until I considered a status update that normally wouldn’t have given my fingers a moment of pause. The update, you ask? Well, it wasn’t exactly positive. And it was about a client.

 

Now, I’m no dummy. I had no intention of naming the client. But all of a sudden I thought, “If other clients see this post, will they think I talk about them the same way?” Of course they will! So, I changed the post…probably to something random about one of my children.

 

I’ve always counseled my clients to think carefully about their posts. As my fellow edSocialMedia contributor, Marissa Peacock, very eloquently pointed out in her February 7 post Managing Your Online Presence: Add Value, Not Distraction, you need a strategy behind your social media plan. Tactics are great, but alone they add up to nothing. You have to have a vision that drives all your posting and commenting. So, what to do when your personal life converges with your professional life?

 

There are a few schools of thought on this one…

 

One: You can intentionally keep them totally separate. I have friends and colleagues who, for example, have two Facebook profiles. One where they connect only to family and friends. Their profile picture is the family dog or their high school yearbook picture. Here they post pictures of the kids, recipes and snarky comments about the Oscars. The other is only for colleagues and clients. The photo is all business, and the posts are news articles and commentary on their industry.

 

Two: Co-mingle away. Pictures of the kids alternate with Twitter posts about Charlie Sheen and commentary on politics. All topics are open. Nothing is off limits.

 

Three: Ride the fence. I’m squarely in this category. And I love it. Clients, co-workers and my sister comment on my new haircut or the Christmas picture of my girls. Book clubbers recommend books, and my daughter’s pre-school teacher adds her favorites to the mix. Fascinating conversations begin between people who have never met. Myriad opinions are expressed and I love finding those off-the-wall comments that can become great ideas with the right perspective. But I have to be careful. I don’t complain about my job (my boss is one of my Facebook friends), I don’t complain about clients (duh), and I don’t talk about politics (double duh). In no way does this mean I can’t be myself…I’m just a slightly more filtered version of myself (some might say this is a good thing).

 

How does this apply to education, you ask? Simple. If you choose to co-mingle or to ride the fence, you can’t post about that student in your 3rd period class who “just isn’t getting it.” You can’t comment on that helicopter parent who thinks you don’t know she’s doing her son’s homework. And you certainly can’t complain about the ridiculous decision the board/head of school/parents’ association passed down in today’s faculty meeting. Common sense, you say? I’ve seen every bit of it. And I’ve seen people get fired over it.

 

For further thought: Does your school have a social media policy? I wrote one for the school where I worked. The biggest issue: no friending current students. Make sure you know your organization’s social media policy…whether stated or “understood.” It may not be in writing, but do you really want to get called to the head’s office over something that could have been avoided?

 

At the end of the day, there are so many benefits (in my opinion), that I’m an avid supporter of crossing the streams. It’s made me a more thoughtful and careful poster. It’s deepened my relationships with clients and helped us find common interests. It’s given me a great forum for questions like “Give me one good reason not to kill my Twitter account.” You wouldn’t believe some of the responses I got to that one…from Twitter-heads and anti-Twitterites, alike.

 

My only ardent advice: Whatever direction you take, make sure your decision is thoughtful and deliberate, because it’s really difficult to go back. You can’t “unfriend” students or their parents (or your mom) and expect them to understand. You can’t go from posting all about your opinions on the current White House administration to a “no political speech allowed” policy and expect your friends not to slip up once in awhile. Got co-workers who like to curse? They’ll be fraternizing with your church friends.

 

I love the Venn Diagram as an analogy for this dilemma, and the great thing is…you get to choose how much they overlap…if at all. Whether you choose to separate church and state (sorry…my 6yo started public school this year) or blur the lines all the way, it will be the best decision, because it’s all about what makes you most comfortable.

Jennifer Milikien

Jennifer Milikien

Principal/Owner at Local Color Communications

Jennifer is a graduate of Texas A&M University and has an MBA from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She has worked in the marketing and public relations field for more than 12 years and has extensive experience in non-profit, financial services, education, healthcare and newspapers. She has won awards from the Texas Public Relations Association for public relations tactics and planning and for magazine writing and editing. She serves on the board of the Public Relations Society of America's San Antonio Chapter.

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