Image provided by Intersection Consulting

Image provided by Intersection Consulting

I don’t know about you, but when I usually think of social media, I immediately imagine jumping on Facebook to connect with a friend from high school or college, reading through the Twitter feed on my iPhone app for the latest news, and searching for recipes on Pinterest to find the perfect thing to cook for dinner. Rarely, until entering grad school, had I thought about the numerous uses for social media that don’t involve my personal connections or interests. But alas, there is a use for Facebook beyond posting an obnoxious amount of pictures of my dog… Organizations can use social media as a vehicle for online communication and fundraising! Plenty of organizations have active Facebook pages, Twitters, blogs, etc. to share with their followers the latest happenings (for example, the very active Facebook page of the Southern Center for Human Rights where I intern). In just a few clicks, they spread news to thousands of followers… Seems pretty powerful for a small non-profit, right?! If you are a professional who fits into this picture somehow, let’s talk a little about how the culture of social media may influence your next post.

Let’s start by thinking about who you are connected to when you get online. Most of us probably have a mix of connections on various sites. For instance, you may have some Facebook friends that include your buddies from college, various family members, some colleagues, oh, and those girls you met at the club last Friday night. Do you think about who might see what you post when you are typing it? What about your privacy settings? Even if you aren’t friends with someone, could you guarantee that they couldn’t take a gander at your latest status update? I mean, you probably don’t want those risqué bachelor party pictures being seen by the people who share your office space… or your mom. The moral of the story is that you have a lot to consider before you go wild on a social networking site. For a little more food for thought on this subject, check out “Who really owns your social media persona?” by Drew McLellan.

Now, imagine that you are employed by a non-profit and are responsible for keeping up with their social media sites. This requires deeper consideration on a whole new level. Your constituents probably don’t want to read about the Braves’ decision to trade Prado or Kim and Kanye’s baby plans… Remember your goals and objectives at the screen should be very different when you are professionally engaging in social media from when you do so personally. For more information on this, DR4WARD has a great illustration on how your frame of mind should shift based on these two totally different situations. So what SHOULD you post?! How do you respond to an irate client on your Facebook page or an inappropriate comment on your blog? Are there specific people you should aim to connect with? Are there rules you should be aware of? While I can’t tell you how to behave in every situation, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to help you set the right boundaries of personal vs. professional uses of social media:

1. What is your organization’s goal for bringing people to your site? It’s not to connect with only your closest friends… You want as much traffic as possible to be able to raise awareness about your cause. Thus, you want anyone and everyone reading your latest blog and liking your last post.

2. Now that you’ve made the connections, you can think about what to post. Using social media as a professional means you need to filter what you say – and how you say it – according to your audience. Is it honest? Is it necessary? Does it help your organization? If not, you probably shouldn’t showcase it on the internet for the world to read.

3. The last, and perhaps the most important, thing you should consider is whether your organization has written guidelines or policies about how you conduct yourself on their social media site. If they do, defer to them if you find yourself needing guidance.

That brings us to our final discussion. If you have an organization where your employees are active in social media realms using your brand, you should develop a social media policy to provide employees with guidelines about appropriate internet behavior. According to Heather Mansfield, author of Social Media for Social Good, these guidelines should be simple and short, focusing on the bigger picture using language that can apply in numerous social media contexts. A great resource for how you can begin to think in terms of potentially developing a social media policy is through Beth Kanter’s blog post titled “Social Media in the Nonprofit Workplace: Does Your Organization Need A Social Media Policy?” She presents thoughtful, interesting components you should take into consideration for how to guide your employees, such as confidentiality, appropriate behavior, and how to act as a representative on the organization’s behalf, to name a few.

In sum, there are a ton of things you should consider before putting pen to paper… fingers to keys (?)… It may seem confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. I honestly believe it comes down to one thing: mindfulness. Take a few seconds and think about your intentions. Are you representing yourself personally or professionally? Who is going to read what you write, and does this require some sort of filtering? If applicable, are you complying with the guidelines that have been set in place for your behavior? By following this simple roadmap to social media behavior, you’re good to go.