Some time ago now I wrote a blog post detailing my initial forays into social networking sites in order to develop an online presence in preparation for teaching in the virtual world. At that time I was decidedly ambivalent about revealing myself as a person in a professional context and I continued the experiment only because almost every piece of literature I was reading about online teaching and learning was telling me that a personal presence was an essential factor in minimizing attrition and facilitating engagement in online learning.
A year on and I can’t imagine life without online networking. I use Facebook mainly, but have a presence on other sites as well and whilst I am aware of, and have experienced one or two of the challenges of mixing the personal and professional on Facebook I have developed strategies to manage these. I thought I might share a few with you here.
Privacy – Facebook has been criticized for revealing too much information about its users. No, the users reveal too much information about themselves by not understanding or implementing appropriate privacy settings. I make my profile available to friends only, categories my friends into groups and then further screen what I revel to whom. It seems to work out fine.
Refusing student friend requests – I was anxious about rejecting friend requests from undergraduate students but didn’t want to offend by rejecting them. Actually, very few of them want to be friends with me (should I be upset about that I wonder?), and if any do I just explain that once they graduate I’m more than happy but until then I prefer to take a more boundaried approach. I don’t think I’ve offended anyone yet, but I guess you never quite know.
Our online Masters students are different though. I created my account specifically for this group in order to demonstrate that although a lecturer I was also a human being (apparently it makes me more approachable). It would seem silly therefore to exclude them, even though it could be argued that some of the same boundary issues are relevant. I am now friends with several of my MSc students, and you know what? I feel I know them better as people too, and am more engaged with them so I guess it works both ways.
Being invited to be friends with a stranger – This is a difficult one. I started rejecting anyone I didn’t know (you can do this quietly, by ignoring them) but then I thought that I might be missing great opportunities. This is social networking after all. So, I’m more discerning now and I’ll add strangers from the OT worlds if we have things in common. This has resulted in some collaborative working and interesting discussions and debates, reinforcing the idea that a stranger is a friend you haven’t yet met… Maybe. Random strangers however, are still quietly ignored.
So, in summary, I have found a way of using Facebook professionally that works for me. I’ve also been fortunate enough to find old “real” friends too, but that is another story.