The #BlurredLines of Social Media Today

The digital landscape is ever expanding. Social media is no longer just a casual way to aggregate personal photos—it’s an integral part of many industries. And with the estimated number of active users across all social media platforms at 2.03 billion (Adweek), many women are finding themselves in a place where their strong social media following can be used as a tool to leverage a new career opportunity, or monetize their audience. While users benefit from having a public audience at their fingertips, the responsibility attached can have long-term consequences if not handled thoughtfully.

For those with high-profile positions such as marketers, media personalities, politicians, etcetera, being your own brand ambassador or one for your employer can put limits on the type of content publishable on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

Understanding the functionalities and audience behind each social website and application is an important step towards making smart choices when crafting a digital persona. Do my followers really want to see a daily photo of my dog? How many times picturse of my offspring in their car seat can they handle? Curating content that’s not only personally satisfying, but also safe, flattering, and work appropriate means establishing boundaries, respecting them, and developing a strategy.

“Everyone ultimately draws their own line of what’s considered acceptable for personal brands,” says Daniel Fricker, an instructor at the University of Toronto who teaches a course on social media strategy. “Sometimes, companies draw that line for you.”

“[The focus] depends on how advanced the organizations are with their own social strategy,” explains Fricker, who is also a senior manager of digital and social media for CBC, and sits on the board at Twist Out Cancer.

When it comes to someone’s own brand, Fricker thinks people are conscious to some degree of the networks they’re reaching and the privacy levels of each platform—most people understand that Twitter is public while Facebook can provide a more secured profile when set up properly.

The key to posting well is to know your audience—who you’re connecting with and what they expect from you. A personal brand or a corporation needs to recognize what its audience is looking for, taking into consideration their age, interests, and lifestyle. A fashion- savvy audience will want to see posts from the Paris runways, while foodies want to see what’s on your plate.

But, like most things in the social realm, tastefulness is open for debate. Social media behaviour can fall into the same murky pool as officeappropriate dress codes. Each organization has its own set of guidelines. A social media post is the new bra strap—to show or not to show?

“If they decide to venture into this territory, [the rules] must be explicit,” Fricker says of companies trying their hand at implementing social media policies. “Guidelines should be as explicit as possible the day an employee starts,” he says. “Otherwise, you end up with a series of subjective opinions.”

Some companies opt to train employees, as they become built-in spokespeople for their brand. “It’s not just restricting the negative, but empowering the positive. There’s a way to enable a social workforce by empowering [employees] as brand advocates; a collection of microphones for a business,” says Fricker.

Postmedia reporter Jenny Yuen has been running her Twitter account for five years—a work account, which is her only one—since the company started pushing for more social media engagement. A general assignments reporter, Yuen live-tweets from all kinds of locations and has managed to avoid scandal. She ascribes this to common sense.

Her posts to Twitter are exclusively work-related, so restrictions and constant regard for what’s being posted go without saying, but she has a strong sense of social media protocol.

“I wouldn’t swear on a work account,” explains Yuen, who saves more intimate and personal posts for Facebook. “I talk about personal things on there, but I’m also aware that people from work are seeing it—my bosses are Facebook friends. There is a line I’m always aware of.”

While there’s no definitive answer that states what’s right, wrong, or fair, each piece of content has the potential to be interpreted with a high level of subjectivity. “Every word, every hashtag—what it means—you have to be aware,” stresses Yuen, standing by her point that a little common sense can go a long way.

If you’re unsure of how to gauge contentious material or remain concerned about preserving a respectable online reputation, yet still want to be active on social media, privatizing your accounts is the best solution. In addition, careful consideration of who is allowed to access the content is crucial.

Perhaps hilarious images of your children or your dog doing the most adorable things are better left for text messages or group chats. If well received there, then maybe they qualify for a #ThrowBackThursday. The extra time and feedback might just save your job or your digital reputation.