Personal vs. Department Identity in Social Media

January 15, 2013

A few days ago I received an email from a colleague who manages social media for an MIT program. She wrote, "One thing that really confuses me is how to brand myself in relationship to [the program]. People reach me more than others via [the program's] social media accounts. Sometimes people ask 'Who is behind this account?' You're so good at branding yourself but maintaining the proper relationship to MIT in general." She mentioned this would be a good blog post, so here we are.

Guidelines for managing a department's social media account:

  • Don't include dates or personal names in the department's social media branding when it comes to permanent aspects, such as a Twitter handle or Soundcloud username. For example, if your last name were Smith, the Math department should not have a Twitter handle like @smithMIT2012, even if the Twitter name or bio states "Department of Mathematics."
  • You may choose to include the name of the manager in the account's biography section. For example, "Managed by Mary Smith, assistant to the president." However, this is not required.
  • When several people manage – or share – department-relevant insights to a single social networking account, they can tag their posts with a caret, such as "Come join us at the career fair today! ^MS", where "MS" might equal "Mary Smith" (you would use your own initials after the tweet). If you choose to use this system, make sure visitors understand to whom the initials belong. You may provide a key in the background graphic or in the bio/about section.
  • Do not post content to the department's account that is not relevant to the department, including personal posts or retweets of content that contradicts the department's priorities, brand, or voice.

No one should feel obligated to have a personal social media account apart from their department. However, it can be beneficial to give yourself a voice as a professional in your field. It's good to network and share knowledge with like-minded individuals and organizations.

Guidelines for managing a personal social media account apart from the department's account:

  • Do not include "MIT" in your permanent handle/username unless you intend to post all content on that account as an official representative of MIT or in your official capacity at MIT.
  • You may include MIT among other roles and interests in your biography or 'about' section. After all, it is a part of who you are as a whole. If you only include your role at MIT in the bio and nothing else, it may be interpreted that you are speaking in your official capacity at all times. Therefore, make sure it is clear in your bio that it is a personal account by stating so or by including other roles in addition to what you do for MIT. This will make it obvious that you are representing yourself as a thought leader in a certain field of interest instead of as a university representative.
  • If you choose to have an account for your role at MIT (e.g., Dean Ortiz's Facebook page), all of your posts should be appropriate and relevant to your role at MIT.
  • If you choose to have a personal professional account, it is fine to talk about MIT among your non-MIT thoughts, now that you've made it clear this is a personal account. However, you don't want the account to be too scattered. After all, this is your professional brand. I sometimes include hashtags in my bio: for example, your bio could say "I post about #engineering #systemsdesign #MIT and #innovation." As you focus your posts on subjects relevant to your field, you will develop a strong brand as a thought leader in those related subjects.
  • Keep content you produce for work and your personal content separate. For example, do not put personal photos on a photo-sharing social networking account for your department.
Posted By
Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Former MIT Social Media Strategist

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