With the rise of major brands and organizations employing dedicated community managers to run their social media presences, there’s an unsettled gray area regarding how much personal detail these managers reveal about themselves to their followers. In many cases, community managers work for products and causes they have personal affinity for — which muddles the line as to how these employees treat their personal social presences. Or does such a concept no longer exist?

At the South by Southwest Interactive panel “Social Media Boundaries: Personal/Personnel Policy,” a group of nonprofit and technology professionals in the social media space discussed how they toe this line to an audience largely comprising community managers.

Major themes that developed from the discussion:

  • Establish your stance on this situation early. As panelist Jess Main of the National Center for Media Engagement put it, “Do we tweet what we had for breakfast as an organization?” Decide upfront who will be the face of your organization’s community presence and how much personal information they will communicate to the audience. Brands with high-consumer touchpoints and strong brand affinity may be able to expand their connection to the audience by including personal touches, whereas companies that people may feel forced to interact with — such as one audience member’s example of an energy utility company — may not be able to create the same traction.
  • But usually, some personal touch is needed. By keeping your organization’s social content strictly focused on internal priorities, you risk watering the content down so that it’s dry and boring. And that’s a missed opportunity. Panelist Debra Askanase said, “It’s very very very hard to be a rabid fan of any process.” By putting a personal spin to an enterprise account, you can reap rewards so long as the brand message comes out on top. Not surprisingly, every community will react differently, and the key is balance. In regards to community managers’ personal Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs, the mood of the session seemed in favor of the common practice of putting a disclaimer on your accounts that posts are yours — not your company’s — but you can also use this space to direct followers to official corporate accounts. And community managers shouldn’t feel obligated to accept personal friend requests from professional contacts.
  • It takes a village. One community manager is never enough. Given the effort it takes to start and grow a following, you don’t want to leave that in one person’s power. Panel moderator Amy Sample Ward mentions that even community managers need to take a sick day, and there was also mention of an engaging community manager who went on maternity leave — and the company’s Twitter account sat idle for three months. Additionally, your community manager is not going to be an expert in every issue that comes out of the community, and thus other people need to be trained to handle issues that directly relate to their expertise.One audience member from OxFam said he created documentation for his backups to follow the company’s strategic focus on the “3 E’s: Educate, Entertain, Engage.”A recent example that exhibits the need for multiple, trained social media managers is the conversation around Planned Parenthood — which found itself overwhelmed with commentary from both supporters and detractors; a situation where just a single person could never keep up with the response level the organization was committed to.
  • Remember that it’s still all about service. Just because you push out personal content and brand-amplifying messages, your community will still primarily look at your social presences as a place to come to for customer service needs. You need to be staffed and prepared to act on those requests.

Want to learn more? Check out this best-practices document provided by the panel.

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